Although most people have heard of embezzlement, few know exactly what this offense entails. Generally, we think of embezzlement as a sophisticated, white-collar crime that occurs in the higher ranks of government and business. But in reality, just about anyone could commit embezzlement, because, at its core, the crime simply involves fraudulently using or taking someone else’s property after it’s been entrusted to you.
Are you facing charges for embezzlement? If so, call a Los Angeles embezzlement attorney or staff member from Spolin Law P.C. at (310) 424-5816, or reach out through the online form to schedule a free and confidential case consultation.
Prosecutors Must Prove Every Element of Embezzlement Beyond a Reasonable Doubt
The elements of embezzlement are laid out in Section 503 of the California Penal Code. A conviction for embezzlement should only occur if a prosecutor has proven every one of these elements beyond a reasonable doubt:
The property owner entrusted their property to you.
The primary distinction between theft and embezzlement is that, the victim willfully gives the property to the perpetrator in embezzlement. This transfer of the property can happen directly, or through someone intervening. To prove this element, the prosecutor must present evidence that the victim actually owned the property in question, and that they willfully conveyed it to you.
The owner did so because they trusted you.
In addition to showing that the victim gave their property to you, the prosecutor must provide evidence of how this happened. Embezzlement charges only apply to situations where the owner gives you the property because they trusted you. Thus, if the victim gave you the property because of a mistake, embezzlement would not be an appropriate charge.
You fraudulently took or used that property for your own benefit.
This element requires a proof of fraud. You commit fraud when you make a misrepresentation of an important fact to the owner, who then relies on this fact to their detriment – and to your benefit. This misrepresentation may occur through a statement, or an intentional omission of a fact. Furthermore, the prosecutor needs to show that you took or used the property for your personal benefit, even if only for a short period of time.
You intended to deprive the owner of the use of their property.
As with most crimes, a prosecutor must prove that you acted with criminal intent. In the case of embezzlement, the criminal intent is the desire to take someone’s property as your own. This protects people from being convicted after acting unintentionally.
These elements can be satisfied by a vast array of circumstances. Whether you are an entrepreneur, a government employee, an officer in a nonprofit, or a repair person who frequently takes temporary possession of clients’ property, you are in a position to commit embezzlement. Even if you acted unintentionally, the prosecutor may be able to present evidence that you intended to take the property from the victim. Evidence of intent is often circumstantial. If you are heavily in debt, for example, the prosecutor may present this as proof of your intent to take money or valuables from other people.
How a California Embezzlement Defense Attorney Can Help
If you have been charged with embezzlement, or even if you suspect that you are being investigated, you should seek legal counsel immediately. Do not speak with investigators or the alleged victims, even if it’s to deny that you committed any crime. Anything you say can be turned around and used to prove one of the elements of embezzlement.
When you hire a lawyer from Spolin Law P.C., they will act as an intermediary between you and the authorities. Your legal team will analyze the prosecutor’s case and determine the best defense strategy. Depending on the circumstances, there could be several defenses available to you, so do not accept a plea deal before consulting with a lawyer. To speak with a Los Angeles embezzlement attorney or staff member from our firm, contact us today at (310) 424-5816.