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Embezzlement: What Is It and How Is It Charged?

Photo: Rolled Up MoneyMost people know that embezzlement involves stealing of some kind, but they’re usually not sure what the legal definition is beyond that point.

And although criminal law terminology may differ slightly in different states, a common definition of embezzlement is theft by employees of funds that they do not own that have been placed under their care.

But embezzlement can also occur without an employee/employer relationship.

For example, a financial services representative can embezzle funds from a customer by violating his or her fiduciary duty.

So the question is what are the common standards to file an embezzlement charge, and what are some defenses against this charge.

Common Standards Needed To File An Embezzlement Charge

Again, although language may differ among states, there are four common standards required to prove an embezzlement charge, including:

  • Fiduciary Relationship – this simply means that one party relied on another party to accomplish some type of task.
  • Acquisition Through Relationship – the person accused of embezzlement must have gained financial benefits through that fiduciary relationship.
  • Ownership – the person accused of embezzlement must have taken possession of the property in question (money, stocks, etc), or given it to another person.
  • Intentional – the person accused of embezzlement intended to steal the property, in other words, his or her actions were not an error or mistake.

Common Defenses To An Embezzlement Charge

There are some strategies that defense lawyers employ against an embezzlement charge, including:

  • Lack of Intent – the defense must show that the accused did not intend to defraud the plaintiff, and was acting in good faith when an error in judgment or a mistake was made that led to the embezzlement charge.
  • Entrapment – the defense must show that the accused was coerced into committing embezzlement by a third party. In other words, the defendant was tricked into performing the actions, and would not have done so without the involvement of the third party.
  • Property Ownership – the defense must show that the accused believed in good faith that he or she rightfully owned the property that was embezzled. Therefore, there was no intent on the defendant’s part to conceal the taking of that property, which is a huge aspect of embezzlement. The accused could also prove that he or she believed the property taken was compensation for duties they performed.

Is Embezzlement a Felony Or a Misdemeanor?

Embezzlement is charged as either a felony or misdemeanor, depending on the value of the property that the defendant took. In many instances, the theft of petty cash under $500 would be charged as a misdemeanor, and theft of property exceeding $1,000 could be charged as a felony.

Judges have wide discretion in both felonies and misdemeanor embezzlement cases to impose a jail sentence, though many misdemeanor cases are completed with probation and the requirement that defendants pay back what they stole.

Contact an Experienced Lawyer

If you are arrested on a felony embezzlement charge, you should secure the services of a seasoned criminal defense lawyer. The Elden Law Group has years of experience handling these types of cases. Please call us today at (888) 991-9353 for a free legal consultation.

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