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Penal Code 503 PC - Embezzlement Laws in California

Embezzlement is described in PC 503 as the fraudulent appropriation of property by somebody to whom it has been entrusted, which is typically an employee.

The main difference between embezzlement and a standard theft-related crime is the legal requirement the property must have been entrusted to the perpetrator by the owner.

Embezzlement Laws in California – Penal Code 503 PC

Put simply, to be convicted of PC 503 embezzlement, it has to be proven you legally had possession of the property or were given permission to access it. A conviction can result in harsh penalties.

Thus, embezzlement cases usually fall under the category of employee theft. For instance, perhaps an employer allows their employee to control their goods or money, but the employee violates the trust by taking the property for their benefit.

Embezzlement cases are a white-collar crime that could become a complex Ponzi scheme designed to defraud victims of their money. For example, the infamous stock broker case of Bernie Madoff, who was convicted of embezzling billions from investors.

Embezzlement is often called employee theft because a trusted person took advantage of their position to commit fraud. Our California criminal defense attorneys will examine this topic further below.

What is the Legal Definition of PC 503?

Penal Code 503 PC provides a straightforward definition of this fraud:  

  • “Embezzlement is the fraudulent appropriation of property by someone to whom it has been entrusted.”

As mentioned, embezzlement involves somebody unlawfully taking property entrusted to them with the intent to deprive the property owner.

Legal Definition of Penal Code 503 PC Embezzlement

The perpetrator might not necessarily move or conceal property but could exercise control over it against the owners' consent. The essential fraud factor lies in misappropriating the property when the owner assumes they are trustworthy.

Embezzlement is often committed by professionals, such as financial advisors and accountants, in a position of trust. To convict someone of embezzlement, all the elements of the crime under CALCRIM 1806 California Criminal Jury Instructions must be proven, such as:

  • The owner entrusted property to the defendant,
  • The owner did so because they trusted them,
  • The defendant fraudulently used the property for their benefit,
  • The defendant intended to deprive the owner of its use.

What are Some Related Embezzlement Laws?

There are other forms of embezzlement under various Penal Codes that apply to different circumstances, such as:

  • Penal Code 504 PC - embezzlement by public officials,
  • Penal Code 504a PC- embezzlement of the leased property for purchase,
  • Penal Code 504b PC - embezzlement of secured property by the debtor,
  • Penal Code 505 PC - embezzlement of transported property,
  • Penal Code 506 PC - embezzlement of funds entrusted to trustees,
  • Penal Code 506a PC - embezzlement of funds collected by people who collect accounts for others.

What are the Related Crimes?

Embezzlement is different than traditional theft crimes because it has the crucial element of trust connected to it. Other related California crimes include the following:

  • Penal Code 496 PC - receiving stolen property,
  • Penal Code 487 PC - grand theft,
  • Penal Code 488 PC - petty theft,
  • Penal Code 424 PC - misappropriation of public funds,
  • Penal Code 459 PC – burglary,
  • Penal Code 470 PC – forgery.

What are the Penalties for This Crime?

Embezzlement is a “wobbler” that can be filed as either a misdemeanor or felony depending on the amount of loss:  

  • Penal Code 488 PC petty theft under $950 is a misdemeanor punished by up to six months in the county jail.
  • Penal Code 487 PC grand theft over $950 can result in felony charges with a sentence of up to three years in state prison and payment of victim restitution.
  • Penal Code 515 PC elevates embezzlement to an aggravated offense when the victim is elderly or dependent.

A felony embezzlement conviction could have negative immigration consequences as it's a crime involving moral turpitude.

How Can You Fight Embezzlement Charges?

Several common legal defense strategies can be used if you are charged with embezzlement under Penal Code 503.

Penal Code 511 PC says: “Upon any indictment for embezzlement, it's a sufficient defense that the property was appropriated openly, and under a claim of title in good faith, even though such claim is untenable. But this provision doesn't excuse the unlawful retention of the property of another to offset or pay demands held against him.”

Intending to return the property is not a valid defense, but other defenses are discussed below. Perhaps while controlling the funds or property, you didn't intend to deprive the owner.  Maybe someone took the property without your knowledge or authorization.

Defenses for Penal Code 501 PC Embezzlement Charges

Perhaps we could argue you owned the property or had other rights to it under a lease or other contract. Maybe you had a lawful right to possess, repossess, or otherwise take and dispose of the property.

Contact our defense team to review the details and legal options if you are under a criminal investigation or were already arrested and charged with Penal Code 503 embezzlement.

Through negotiation, it might be possible to get the charges reduced or even dismissed. Perhaps we could convince the prosecution not to file formal criminal charges before the first court date (DA reject).

Cron, Israels & Stark is located in Los Angeles County and we provide legal representation across Southern California. We offer a free case evaluation via phone or use the contact form.

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