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California embezzlement is governed by California Penal Code section 503. Generally, embezzlement occurs when a suspect or defendant is entrusted with the property of someone else, and then appropriates that property without the consent of the rightful owner. This often occurs in employment settings. For example, if a cashier is entrusted with a company’s money for the purposes of their duty as a cashier, and the cashier decides to pocket some of the money, this would be classified as embezzlement.
A common profession in which people are accused of embezzling funds is bookkeeping. Bookkeepers often have direct contact with large sums of money on a daily basis. As part of their duties, bookkeepers often verify and allocate transactions, as well as maintain petty cash and maintain budgets. Bookkeepers have broad authority in handling money. More often than not, bookkeepers are accused of stealing small amounts of money over a long period of time – which could equal hundreds of thousands of dollars and increasing potential penalties. While bookkeepers accused of embezzlement obviously face potential criminal liability, they often face civil liability, as well. This is because the bookkeeper holds a fiduciary duty to his or her employer. A fiduciary duty is a position of trust, creating a duty that the bookkeeper be truthful and honest in their role as a bookkeeper. This blog will focus primarily on the criminal aspects of embezzlement, but it is important to note that bookkeepers will likely face both civil and criminal penalties.
When one is accused of embezzlement, there are serious repercussions – even before a conviction takes place. Not only do you lose your job, but depending on whether or not the accused has a professional license – simply being under investigation for such a crime may prompt an investigation into your fitness for holding a professional license. Even for those who do not hold a professional license, the consequences can be devastating. If convicted, you will likely have significant difficulty obtaining other employment, your reputation will be tarnished, and restitution from civil liability could completely drain your assets. Because of the devastating effects of such a conviction, it is imperative that you secure experienced legal counsel in order to obtain the best outcome in your case. While each case is different and fact-specific, there are several approaches that a creative criminal defense attorney may take to lessen the blow upon the accused.
Depending on each case, the District Attorney may file charges as a misdemeanor or a felony. In California, a charge of embezzlement is listed as grand theft. If you are convicted of misdemeanor grand theft, you will face up to one year in county jail, along with fines and restitution. If you are convicted of felony grand theft, you may serve up to three years in county jail, in addition to fines and restitution. However, with the proper attorney, there are several available defenses and negotiation tactics that can help the client get past this dark time in their life. First, a good criminal defense attorney will make the prosecutor work hard to prove that you intended to convert the money or property to your possession. This can be done by spending time with the client and learning about what kind of person they are. In addition, a good criminal defense attorney will obtain character reference letters, which will show the District Attorney and the court that credible people within society are willing to vouch for the client’s integrity. Mitigating circumstances like education, psychological conditions (including depression and bipolar disorder), awards and accolades, and other types of information that may diminish the desire for the District Attorney to seek a harsh sentence may aid in helping to secure the best outcome. However, the goal should always be a complete dismissal of the case.
In addition, a good attorney will do a thorough investigation into the workplace accusing the defendant of embezzlement. If there is any history of personal grudges or hostility between the accuser and the accused, then a defense of false allegations must be thoroughly explored.
If you or someone you know has been accused or even convicted of embezzlement (grand theft) in California, retaining the right attorney as soon as possible is crucial. In addition, experienced criminal defense attorneys will be well-versed in post-conviction relief for those who made the mistake of hiring the wrong attorney to handle the original case.