Embezzlement penalties and defenses
Embezzlement laws penalize people who unlawfully retain property that is entrusted to them. In California, embezzlement is a property crime.
It requires a fiduciary relationship between the person to whom the property was entrusted and the victim. This means that he or she had a responsibility to act in the best interest of the victim. By embezzling the property, he or she breached that fiduciary duty.
For a person to be found guilty of embezzlement, the prosecutor must demonstrate that he or she had an intent to defraud or deprive the victim of the property. In California, even if the intent was temporary, that may still be sufficient to charge the person with embezzlement.
The penalties for embezzlement may depend on the value of the property involved. If the property was valued below $950, the person may be required to pay a fine up to $1,000, may be imprisoned for up to six months or both. If the property is valued above $950, it is generally prosecuted as a felony, which could result in imprisonment between six months and three years.
There are several defenses that may be available to the person who is charged with embezzlement. If the person took the property with a good faith belief that he or she had title to it, that may be a defense.
Also, the person may have a defense if he or she properly took the property while acting as an agent under a power of attorney, trust or other similar circumstances.
If the property owner did not demand or make a written request for the property to be returned, that may also offer support that the accused person did not intend to embezzle the property.
If a person is charged with embezzlement, an experienced attorney can help.