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Criminal Defense From A Former Prosecutor

Understanding embezzlement versus theft

The accusation of someone taking another's property is a serious claim, one that may come with severe consequences. In fact, it can result in criminal charges and stiff penalties.

Though embezzlement and theft have strong similarities, they are still quite different, according to California law. There are a few distinctions that help to signify the two acts.


By definition, theft is the taking of someone's property with the intent to deprive the person of said property, willingly and unlawfully. It may come with either a petty theft or grand theft classification, depending on the value of the stolen property. Those facing grand theft may receive misdemeanor or felony charges, and they may face jail time of up to three years and fines up to $10,000.


Embezzlement is the fraudulent appropriation of property by someone entrusted with said property. Similar to theft, embezzlement may be a felony or misdemeanor, with penalties between 364 days to three years in jail, and up to $10,000 in fines.

Key distinction

Embezzlement is a type of theft, so they have their similarities, as noted in the U.S. laws regarding the two. However, they are still different. Though both involve the removal of property from the owner, how this occurs sets the two apart. In the case of embezzlement, the stolen property was entrusted to the accused party. For example, if an assistant takes some cash out of a deposit his or her boss entrusts that person to make, then the assistant is committing embezzlement. On the other hand, a person who steals another party's credit card and racks up charges commits theft.

By understanding the difference between these two charges, you may gain clarity on what you face. It can also be beneficial to review the laws in full to see how they apply to your specific case.

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