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Criminal Defense From A Former Prosecutor

A basic overview of California's embezzlement laws

Embezzlement is a serious property theft crime in California. It happens when someone entrusted with money or property steals for his or her own personal gain. The law distinguishes embezzlement from theft or larceny because a fiduciary relationship between the defendant and victim is necessary.

To put it in simpler terms, the defendant has legal access and certain duties relating to the money or property, but not legal ownership or the ability to use it for personal profit. Anyone in a position of trust in regards to money or property that belongs to someone else may commit embezzlement. 


Embezzling property worth less than $950 counts as petty theft. Maximum punishments include imprisonment of six months and a $1,000 fine. Embezzlement of property worth more than $950 counts as grand theft and can lead to a felony conviction. Felony embezzlement is punishable by up to three years in prison. Any aggravating factors may increase these criminal consequences.

Intent requirement

In order for there to be an embezzlement conviction, a prosecutor must be able to prove the intent of the defendant. Embezzlement requires an intentional desire to deprive the victim of funds or property. Even an intent to temporarily defraud the victim may be enough to prove embezzlement.

Public funds

California Penal Code Section 514 has unique punishments for those who embezzle public funds. This can be money or property from local, state or federal governments. Embezzlement of public funds is punishable by incarceration in state prison and a ban from holding a public position.  

Common defenses

Not all embezzlement cases end in convictions. Defendants can challenge the charges against them in various ways. For example, if a demand of return is missing from the owner of the property or the defendant takes the property with a good faith belief of ownership, it may be difficult for the prosecutor to prove embezzlement beyond a reasonable doubt. 


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