PC 504 Embezzlement by a Public Officer Laws and Best Defenses
California Penal Code 504 PC makes it an embezzlement crime for a public officer to fraudulently use public funds or property in any manner that is not consistent with their official authority.
This form of white collar offense normally involves the misuse of money or property by a public officer.
Put simply, it's basically a theft crime where a public officer takes money or property that was entrusted to them and then fraudulently use it for their own personal benefit.
The vast majority of embezzlement cases are prosecuted under the statute of Penal Code 503, which is also similar to Penal Code 487 grand theft, which is a “wobbler” that can be filed as either a misdemeanor or felony crime.
Penal Code 504 is only used when the defendant who is accused of embezzling is a public officer, which are typically employees of California state, county, or a city.
PC 504 embezzlement by a public officer is a form of misappropriation of public resources. Clearly, anyone charged under this statute can be facing life-altering consequences.
This article by our Los Angeles criminal defense attorneys will review the state of California embezzlement law to give you're a better understanding of the charges.
What is Embezzlement by a Public Officer?
As noted, Penal Code 504 is the statute commonly used to prosecute public officials with embezzlement.
In order to obtain a conviction, a prosecutor will have to prove certain factors that are called the “elements of the crime” including the following:
- fraudulently took state property or funds in their possession, or control, to use it for unrelated purposes for the execution of their public duty, or
- fraudulently concealed property or funds with intent to use them for purposes that are not related to the their public duty.
Put simply, in order for a public officer to be arrested, charged, and convicted under this statute, it must be proven they used funds or property in a manner that exceeded their official authority.
To act in a fraudulent manner is described as using trickery or dishonestly to defraud somebody.
In the context of Penal Code 504 PC, a public officer acts fraudulently if they deliberately commit a deceptive act bringing them undeserved benefit to themselves or causes harm or loss to the state of California.
Who is a public officer?
“Public officers” are people who are employed by a California county, city, district, authority, or municipal corporation or their subdivisions. They can also include members of state boards or agencies.
It's anyone employed by the state, including the governor, city council members, secretary, or an agent of any public employee.
Understanding Types of Embezzlement Charges
If you are accused of violating Penal Code 504 PC, you could also be charged under other statutes, such as petty theft under Penal Code 484 and grand theft under Penal Code 487 PC.
- PC 484 Petty theft – If the value of the money or property was under $950, then the prosecutor could file charges under this statute. Petty theft is a misdemeanor offense that carries up to 6 months in a county jail and a maximum fine of $1,000;
- PC 487 Grand theft – If the value of the loss was greater than $950, then charges could be filed under this statute. Grand theft is a “wobbler” that can be filed as a misdemeanor or felony crime. The decision on the level of charges filed will be based on defendant's prior record, total value of money or property taken, and the circumstances of the case.
What are the Penalties for a PC 504 Conviction?
If you are convicted of embezzlement by a public officer, the penalties will depend on the type of charge. Normally, you will be facing the following punishments:
- Fines and county jail time – as noted, a PC 484 petty theft conviction carries a sentence of up to six months in county jail and a fine of $1,000.
- Fines and state prison time – if convicted of felony PC 487 grand theft, you are facing a sentence of up to three years in state prison and a maximum fine of 10,000. A misdemeanor grand theft case carries up to a year in county jail and a fine up to $1,000.
- Probation - it may be possible to avoid jail time and receive a probation sentence only, but you will be ordered to follow strict conditions for a certain amount of time. Some of the condition include community service hours, counseling, paying victim restitution, and regular court appearances to check your progress. If you don't follow the conditions set by the court, your probation could be revokes and you will have to serve jail or prison time.
What are the Legal Defenses?
Depending on the details of the PC 504 embezzlement by a public officer case, it might be possible to get the charges reduced or dismissed.
Our criminal defense lawyers can use a wide range of strategies in an effort to obtain the best possible outcome on the case.
Perhaps we could make an argument you were not a public officer when the offense occurred and should not be facing charges under PC 504 as only public officers can be charged with this statute.
Another possible argument is that you didn't fraudulently use public funds or property.
The prosecutor has to prove you had intent to unlawfully use the money or property for your own personal benefit.
Perhaps there is a reasonable argument for your actions that could create reasonable doubt that you had a fraudulent criminal intent or that you simply made an honest mistake.
In an uncommon situation, you may have acted under duress, which means you were forced by another person to commit embezzlement.
Perhaps by use of threats or violence against you are family members, you were pressured by somebody to misappropriate public property or funds.
If you under investigation, or you were already arrested and charged with Penal Code 504 embezzlement by a public official, then you should contact us for an initial consultation.
Through negotiation with the prosecutor, we might be able to persuade them to reduce the charges or even avoid the formal filing of charges through prefiling intervention, which is known as a DA reject.
Eisner Gorin LLP is located in Los Angeles County and you can contact us for a consultation at (877) 781-1570, or fill out the contact form.