Los Angeles Embezzlement Attorney

Any fraudulent appropriation of property by a person to whom it has been entrusted may lead to embezzlement charges. That may sound simple, but that short phrase is packed with elements that a prosecuting attorney must prove in order to secure a conviction for embezzlement. An experienced Los Angeles embezzlement attorney can help you develop a strong defense to allegations against you. Call the experienced criminal defense team at Spolin Law P.C. today at (310) 424-5816 to find out how we can help you.

How to Fight Embezzlement Charges

If you’ve been charged with embezzlement in California, the prosecution’s burden is high. Working with an experienced Los Angeles embezzlement attorney may be able to achieve a favorable outcome, such as:

  • Dismissal of the charges
  • Acquittal (being found “not guilty) at trial
  • A favorable plea agreement that reduces charges and/or consequences

At Spolin Law P.C., we begin every case with a thorough investigation of the evidence and analysis of your legal options. Here’s what you can expect when you retain a Los Angeles theft attorney from our firm to defend you in an embezzlement case:

  • We’ll listen to your story, review the allegations against you, and begin our own investigation to uncover any weaknesses in the prosecution’s case or evidence in your favor. This includes, among other things, interviewing witnesses and assembling evidence on your behalf. For example, we may discover that the terms of your agreement with the alleged victim do not rise to the level necessary to establish the required trust-based or fiduciary relationship.
  • We’ll file a motion to dismiss if the prosecution has included charges that are not supported or cannot be proven. For example, the prosecution may have filed felony embezzlement charges, though there is no evidence to establish that the value of the property is significant enough to warrant felony charges.
  • We’ll file other motions on your behalf, such as motions to exclude evidence that may have been illegally obtained. If we are able to suppress critical evidence, the prosecution may be forced to dismiss the charges, or to reduce serious charges and offer a favorable plea agreement.
  • We’ll present technical and legal defenses that may preclude an embezzlement conviction. For example, the prosecution must prove that the victim had entrusted the defendant with the property. If the property was left behind inadvertently or passed to the defendant by a third party without the owner’s consent, an embezzlement conviction cannot be sustained.
  • We’ll negotiate with and put pressure on the prosecution to dismiss the charges or offer a favorable plea agreement, using a multi-faceted approach that includes motions to suppress evidence, moving to dismiss any unsupported charges, and assertion of evidence undermining the prosecution’s case.
  • If necessary, we will fight the charges in the courtroom, holding the prosecution to its burden with regard to each individual element of the crime and highlighting weaknesses in the case for the jury.

If you’ve been charged with embezzlement, it’s to your advantage to talk with an experienced Los Angeles embezzlement lawyer as soon as possible. A lack of technical knowledge can hurt your case, sometimes even preventing the jury from hearing important evidence that might prevent conviction.

What is Embezzlement?

For most people, the word “embezzlement” brings to mind a very specific scenario — a bank teller siphoning off customer funds into his personal account, a business manager skimming off the top of her client’s earnings, or a public official being charged with misappropriation of public funds. However, the California embezzlement statute covers a much wider range of criminal activity.

Some additional examples of situations in which a person appropriates property that has been entrusted to them include:

  • A family member who holds Power of Attorney for an elderly or disabled relative diverts money from the relative’s bank account for his own use
  • A valet parking attendant entrusted with customer vehicles takes a car out of the lot to run errands for his own benefit and without the owner’s permission
  • A trustee who is not a beneficiary of the trust takes money from the trust or loans himself money from the trust

The elements of embezzlement required for a conviction are:

  • That the alleged victim owned the property
  • That the property was in the lawful possession of the defendant
  • That the defendant was acting as an agent, bailee, trustee, servant, or employee
  • That the defendant diverted or appropriated the property in violation of the victim’s trust or a fiduciary relationship
  • That the defendant intended to deprive the owner of the use and possession of the property

In order to convict you of embezzlement, the prosecutor must prove each and every element of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. The prosecutor’s arguments are not proof. Evidence must be presented that clearly demonstrates each element to the judge or jury. If reasonable doubt exists as to one required element, the defendant must be acquitted.

Embezzlement vs. Theft

Embezzlement is a form of theft. The key difference between an embezzlement charge and a general grand theft or petty theft charge is the element involving property being entrusted to the defendant. Often, the prosecuting attorney will charge both embezzlement and theft, as theft is easier to prove and may allow the state to secure a conviction even if the prosecution is unable to prove every element of embezzlement.

Penalties for Embezzlement

Embezzlement may be a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the value of the property involved. In some cases, the type of property may also impact the seriousness of the charge.

  • Misdemeanor Embezzlement — Misdemeanor embezzlement of property worth $950 or less is subject to the same penalties as petty theft, meaning a maximum sentence of up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000. However, if the prosecutor opts to charge embezzlement of property worth more than $950 as a misdemeanor rather than a felony, the penalty is that associated with misdemeanor grand theft rather than petty theft. That may mean up to 12 months in jail.
  • Felony Embezzlement — Felony grand theft embezzlement charges may be filed if the property embezzled is worth more than $950 or includes a firearm or an automobile. Embezzlement may also be charged as a felony if several acts of embezzlement over the course of one year aggregate to more than $950 in value, although no individual theft exceeded that threshold. The base sentence for felony embezzlement ranges from 16 months to three years in prison, with possible enhancement of up to four additional years depending on the value of the property. Substantial fines may also be imposed.

Defenses to Embezzlement Charges

An experienced Los Angeles embezzlement attorney will use multiple tactics to fight the charges against you. These break out into three general categories: presenting evidence on your behalf, highlighting flaws and deficiencies in the prosecution’s case, and using technical motions to control aspects of the case such as what evidence the jury sees and what type of instructions jurors receive from the judge.

Element-Based Defenses

A person cannot be convicted of a crime unless the prosecution has proved each and every element beyond a reasonable doubt. That means that if your criminal defense attorney creates reasonable doubt about just one element, the law requires that you be found “not guilty.”

Of course, an experienced criminal defense lawyer won’t focus on just one element, but will attempt to cast doubt wherever possible. This can be accomplished by presenting evidence that calls the prosecution’s claims into question, or by pointing out weaknesses and gaps in the prosecution’s case. It is important to note that in addition to the element-specific defenses below, a defense attorney may win your case by simply arguing successfully that the prosecution has failed to prove any one of the necessary elements.

  • Ownership of the Property — The simplest defense to embezzlement is that the defendant held title to the property and had the right to use it as he did. Because embezzlement requires intent, even a mistaken claim of ownership may be sufficient to defeat an embezzlement charge, though there must be a legitimate basis for the belief. However, where the defendant owns the property jointly with another, as in a business partnership, diversion of property for the defendant’s sole personal interest may still be deemed embezzlement.
  • The Property Was in the Lawful Possession of the Defendant — Unlike other theft crimes, embezzlement occurs only when the defendant diverts or appropriates property that is already lawfully in his possession or under his control. Thus, demonstrating that the defendant never had legal possession of the property can defeat an embezzlement charge. However, calling this element alone into question may be insufficient, as the defendant could still be convicted of theft.
  • The Property Was Entrusted to the Defendant — Proving that the property has been “entrusted” to the defendant requires more than showing that the victim left the property in the defendant’s care. For example, property that was loaned to the defendant, mistakenly left behind on his property, or otherwise placed in his possession casually or for the benefit of the defendant will generally not suffice. Thus, an experienced criminal defense attorney may be able to defeat this element and win an acquittal by demonstrating that the circumstances under which the property was passed to the defendant did not involve the level of trust or fiduciary relationship required for an embezzlement conviction.
  • The Defendant Diverted or Appropriated the Property in Violation of the Trust — The appropriation or diversion of the property must be intentional, meaning that there are many circumstances under which the property may have been diverted and yet the defendant is not guilty of embezzlement. If the defendant failed to preserve the property as required by the relationship, he or she may be responsible for the owner’s losses. However, only intentional diversion or appropriation will support an embezzlement conviction.
  • The Defendant Intended to Deprive the Owner of Use or Possession of the Property — As mentioned above, an embezzlement charge can be defeated by a good faith belief that the defendant held title to the property and was acting within his rights. Clearly, if the defendant believes himself to be the rightful owner, then he cannot be acting with intent to deprive the owner of the property. Similarly, if the defendant misunderstands the owner’s instructions and believes that he is acting within the scope of his authority, he cannot be found to have intended to deprive the owner of use or possession of the property.

Understanding exactly what is required to prove each element and the specific evidence that will defeat the prosecution’s attempt to prove an element can be difficult. Even attorneys who do not have specific experience with embezzlement defense may have difficulty building and presenting a strong defense. If you have been charged with embezzlement, it is in your best interests to talk with an experienced embezzlement lawyer near you as soon as you are aware of the charges or that you are under investigation.

General and Technical Defenses

Holding the prosecution to its burden of proof involves more than providing evidence that calls an element of the crime into question or casting doubt on the strength of the prosecution’s evidence. An experienced Los Angeles embezzlement defense lawyer will use the law and procedural requirements to manage every aspect of the case. For example, the attorney may:

  • Prevent the prosecutor from introducing evidence that was illegally obtained
  • Prevent the prosecutor from introducing evidence that may be unduly prejudicial
  • Prevent the prosecutor from introducing evidence that may be otherwise inadmissible, such as hearsay
  • Call into question the accuracy of testimony and other evidence
  • Request and argue for favorable jury instructions

While some of these aspects of the case are handled through argument, cross-examination, or objections during trial, motions play an important role in the criminal defense process.

How the Right Los Angeles Embezzlement Lawyer Can Provide the Strongest, Possible Defense

It can be difficult for someone unfamiliar with the criminal justice system to make good decisions about how to proceed. Working with an experienced Los Angeles fraud defense lawyer can make all the difference. Effective use of the tools described above and others can result in an outright dismissal of the charges by a judge, the prosecution agreeing to dismiss the charges, or a verdict of “not guilty” from a judge or jury.

Call an embezzlement attorney from Spolin Law P.C. today at (310) 424-5816 to start building your defense today.