Embezzlement is a crime of theft, which in the state of California can take the form of either a misdemeanor or a felony. There are various penalties for this crime, depending on the severity and the specific circumstances of the case.
People who are facing embezzlement charges need to understand the basics of this offense and its possible consequences.
In California, embezzlement is a property crime, in which a person unlawfully detains property that someone else entrusted to him or her. This is how embezzlement is different from larceny or theft, because, in embezzlement, there is a trust relationship that the person entrusted with the property violates. An example of this is when a caretaker steals from an elderly charge. There must also be a specific intent to defraud and either temporarily or permanently deprive the person of his or her property. Even spending money in a way other than the person who entrusted it intended can qualify as embezzlement.
Understanding misdemeanor versus felony
In its most basic definition, the difference between a misdemeanor and a felony is that a misdemeanor is less serious than a felony charge. With embezzlement, charges can take either form. The distinguishing factor in embezzlement is the dollar value of the property. Under California law, theft of property valued over $950 results in a charge of grand theft, which the courts generally prosecute as a felony.
Since felony charges are more serious, the penalties are also more serious. A felony charge poses the risk of severe consequences. For example, in addition to incarceration in a prison rather than a local jail, a felony conviction can also bring consequences such as loss of voting rights and loss of ability to possess firearms. It is critical to proceed with a strong strategic defense in court in order to have the best chance of avoiding the harshest sentencing.