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How Can I Fight Embezzlement Charges in California?

Posted by Dmitry Gorin | Apr 28, 2021

Review of PC 503 Embezzlement Charges and Best Defenses in California

Embezzlement under California Penal Code 503 PC is described as unlawfully taking money or property that was entrusted to you with the intent to deprive the owner of using it.

While embezzlement if a form of theft, it's different than a regular theft offense because it normally involves an employee of a company who was trusted and initially given access to the money of property.

How Can I Fight Embezzlement Charges in California?
Embezzlement is also known as "employee theft" because the property taken was entrusted to them.

This is why PC 503 embezzlement is commonly known as “employee theft” as they were given permission to have control over a company's assets.

The crime of embezzlement is a “wobbler” offense that can be charged as a misdemeanor or felony crime, depending on the total amount of loss.

If the value of the property exceeds $950, then embezzlement can be filed as a felony case. Any amount under $950 will normally be filed as a misdemeanor.

Being accused of embezzlement in California can be very jarring, especially if you've never been indicted of a crime before.

Embezzlement is a white collar crime, meaning it's usually a non-violent crime that involves fraud in some way.

A closely related crime for PC 503 is Penal Code 504 PC embezzlement or misappropriation by a public officer.

But don't be fooled by the terminology as a white collar crime can still be charged as a felony and punished as such. In fact, a felony PC 503 conviction is punishable by up to three years in jail.

What is Embezzlement?

As stated, Penal Code 503 defines embezzlement as illegally taking property that has been entrusted to you, with the intent to deprive the actual owner of the ability to use the property.

In order for a prosecutor to convict someone of embezzlement, they must first prove all the factors listed under CALCRIM 1806 California Criminal Jury Instructions:

  • the owner entrusted their property to the defendant because they trusted them;
  • the defendant fraudulently used the property for their own benefit, and
  • defendant had intent to deprive the owner of its use.

Relationship of trust 

In embezzlement cases, the prosecutor will have to prove there was a “relationship of trust” between the owner and defendant.

As discussed above, this most commonly occurs when the defendant was an employee of the owner. This means the owner gave consent to their employee to have control and manage their property.

Embezzlement occurs when the employee acts in a fraudulent manner by taking advantage of their position of trust, breaching a duty, and causes the owner some type of loss.

Furthermore, a defendant can only be found guilty of PC 530 embezzlement if the prosecutor can prove they intended to deprive the property owner of using it. Permanent intent is not required as just temporary intent to deprive is sufficient for a conviction.

In other words, if a defendant claims they had intent to return the property, it's not a valid defense to embezzlement charges.

Consequences of an Embezzlement Conviction

If the property taken is worth more than $950, embezzlement can be charged as a felony, carrying a sentence of up to 3 years in custody.

If the property is worth less than this amount, the state will charge the defendant with a misdemeanor, which carries a sentence of up to 6 months in county jail.

The consequences of an embezzlement conviction can vary depending on the level of the theft.

Consequences of an PC 503 Embezzlement Conviction
PC 503 embezzlement can be charged as either a misdemeanor or felony crime in California.

For instance, a first-time embezzlement offense that involves property worth $400 or less is punishable by fines, community service, and informal probation.

The judge will directly supervise the defendant during informal probation. The defendant will return to court every so often to check in with the judge and make sure they pay their fines and complete their community service.

If the property's value is more than $400, the state can decide to charge you with a misdemeanor petty theft or felony grand theft. A misdemeanor conviction carries up to six months in jail and a felony is punishable by up to three years in prison.

In addition to the jail time described in the section above, the consequences here would expand to include paying fines, being on probation or parole for a specific period of time and even being court ordered to undergo counseling.

Aggravating factors 

  • If the amount embezzled was greater than $65,000, an additional year in prison can be added to a prison sentence.
  • If the amount embezzled exceeded $3,200,000, then an additional four years can be added to defendant's sentence.

Related crimes 

Other related California crimes for embezzlement of money or property include Penal Code 470 PC forgery, and Penal Code 424 PC misappropriation of public funds.

Immigration consequences 

In California, an embezzlement conviction may have a negative impact on a defendant's immigration.

Under the United States immigration laws, specific criminal convictions will cause:

  • a non-citizen marked "inadmissible,” and
  • a non-citizen to be deported.

This class of convictions consists of aggravated felonies, which would include felony grand theft embezzlement.

Aggravated felonies usually include violent felonies like murder, rape, and kidnapping.

This means if you are arrested and the state charges a you with Penal Code 503 PC felony grand theft embezzlement, and the facts show the incident is classified as an aggravated felony, then you may be facing disastrous immigration consequences.

Gun rights 

Defendants convicted of embezzlement as a felony are prohibited from buying or owning a gun in California.

If a convicted felon is found with a gun in their possession, they can be subject to further charges and sentencing.


Luckily, in California, a defendant convicted of embezzlement is eligible to have the conviction expunged.

Expungement under Penal Code 1203.4 releases a defendant from most of the consequences associated with the conviction, but it is only an option if the defendant successfully completed probation or a jail term.

If the state discovers the party has violated their probation, they may still be able to have the offense expunged, but it would be solely the judge's decision.

Best Defenses to PC 503 Embezzlement Charges

If you are facing allegations of violating California Penal Code 503 embezzlements laws, our Los Angeles criminal defense lawyers could challenge the case in a variety of ways.

No fraudulent use

Recall from the elements of the crime a defendant must fraudulently use property or money for their own benefit to be guilty under this statute.

We might be able to make an argument you did not cause any loss, breach a duty of confidence, or take advantage of the alleged victim.

Lack of intent to defraud 

An embezzlement charge hinges on the fact that the defendant intended to deprive the actual owner of the property of their right to use it.

Thus, the best defense to embezzlement is proving the defendant had no intention to deprive the owner of their ability to use the property.

Best Defenses to PC 503 Embezzlement Charges
Contact our firm to discuss case and legal options.

Other defenses include proving the defendant believed they had a good faith right to the property or simply showing the defendant didn't use the money or property entrusted to them.

If you or someone you love has been charged with Penal Code 503 PC embezzlement, working with an attorney from the moment you are arrested could ensure the best possible outcome for your case.

Our skilled criminal attorneys will work vigilantly to uncover all the evidence necessary to bring about the best possible outcome for your case.

At Eisner Gorin LLP, we have decades of experience defending clients against all types of fraud or theft related crimes in California.

We are specialists in prefiling intervention, which allows us to advocate on your behalf with law enforcement and prosecuting attorneys to reduce charges or have them dropped entirely before your first court date.

We will review your case and develop a unique and strategic defense to ensure the state appropriately upholds all your rights.

With two office locations in Los Angeles County, we are here to help people throughout Southern California Courts. Call our office for an initial consultation at (877) 781-1570, or contact our firm online.  

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About the Author

Dmitry Gorin

Dmitry Gorin is a licensed attorney, who has been involved in criminal trial work and pretrial litigation since 1994. Before becoming partner in Eisner Gorin LLP, Mr. Gorin was a Senior Deputy District Attorney in Los Angeles Courts for more than ten years. As a criminal tri...

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