the State Bar of California
the San Diego Union-Tribune
The Press-Enterprise


When you initially think of the words “white collar crime” or “embezzlement,” it may conjure up images in your mind of high-powered corporate executives and Wall Street brokers ripping off the little guy and living high on the hog. While those scenarios certainly qualify as some colorful examples of “white collar crime,” there are many other instances in which a person may find themselves facing criminal charges under far less egregious circumstances.

White collar offenses typically involve non-violent behavior committed by those working in positions of trust within a commercial or business setting and motivated by financial gain. Embezzlement is one example and involves the theft or misappropriation of money or property entrusted to someone to manage for the benefit of another person or business entity. “Embezzlement” is typically charged by prosecuting agencies as a violation of Penal Code section 503. In order to be found guilty of this crime, the prosecution must be able to prove that there was a “fiduciary relationship” of some kind between the alleged victim and the accused. The mere fact that someone is an employee assigned to work the cash register at a business and is tasked with handling or exchanging of money is generally insufficient to establish a “fiduciary relationship.” There must be some element of trust involved in the underlying relationship between the parties in order to be considered a “fiduciary.”

In order to be convicted of embezzlement, the prosecution must also prove that you fraudulently used or converted the property embezzled for your own benefit without permission, and that when you acted, you intended to deprive the owner of its use. It is important to note that the prosecution is not required to prove that you intended to permanently deprive the owner of possession of the property in question. The fact that you might have temporarily “borrowed” the money or property is question and intended to repay it even an hour later, will not be a valid defense to this charge.

If the embezzled property is an automobile, a firearm, or valued at more than $950, the crime is a “wobbler” offense, meaning that it can be filed as a misdemeanor or felony, depending upon the specific circumstances involved in each case. The decision to file felony versus misdemeanor charges depends largely on three things: (1) the egregiousness of the alleged conduct involved; (2) the extent of the harm suffered by the alleged victim, if any; and (3) the alleged perpetrator’s prior criminal history, if any. These same three factors will also have a significant impact on what the precise criminal penalties will be in each case. If filed as a felony, this offense carries a maximum possible sentence of up to three years in the county jail, pursuant to Penal Code section 1170 subdivision (h) and/or a fine up to $10,000, plus court costs. If the prosecution elects to file a misdemeanor charge, or the value of the embezzled items is less than $950, the crime will be treated as misdemeanor and is punishable by a maximum of six months in county jail and/or a fine of up to $1,000, plus court costs.

Enhanced penalties and punishments are available in embezzlement cases where the amount of the loss is particularly high. For instance, you can face an additional, consecutive sentence of one year if the loss exceeds $65,000, two years if the loss exceeds $200,000, three years if the loss exceeds $1.3 million and four years if the loss exceeds $3.2 million. In some of these cases, the court can also seize or freeze assets upon the filing of a criminal complaint of indictment in order to ensure that restitution is paid.

You absolutely cannot afford to underestimate the widespread implications that this type of conviction could have in your life and for your future. First and foremost, embezzlement is considered a crime of moral turpitude. This means that if convicted, you may also face adverse collateral consequences related to your immigration status, as well as any professional licenses you may be required to have in order to maintain your employment. Even if you are not required to maintain a professional license in order to earn your livelihood, it is common in today’s world for reputable employers to run background checks on individuals who work for them, and those they are considering hiring. As such, even a misdemeanor criminal conviction for embezzlement could impact your ability to maintain your current employment and your ability to obtain more lucrative employment opportunities in the future.

At the Law Office of Julie Ann Baldwin, APC, we understand that mistakes happen, and we firmly believe everyone is entitled to vigorous, competent and compassionate legal representation. We also understand that the criminal process can be daunting and confusing. In many cases, there are often huge discrepancies between what people think the law is, what they think the law should be, and the reality of what the law truly is. That’s why we are committed to keeping you fully informed throughout the legal process as we work to strategically develop and prepare your defense, with a keen eye toward achieving the most favorable outcome possible for you.

Remember that the legal issues relevant to your case are best identified and addressed early on by a qualified Murrieta defense lawyer. Regardless of the circumstances surrounding your case, it is imperative that you act swiftly and smartly by hiring an experienced, local attorney who is familiar with the rules, common practices and procedures, and individual prosecutors and judges in the jurisdiction where you are facing criminal charges. As a former prosecutor at the Southwest Justice Center in Murrieta, California for the better part of fifteen years, Ms. Baldwin has worked hard to establish her reputation as a trusted, knowledgeable and effective advocate and looks forward to the privilege of putting her skills and experience to work of you.

If you have already been charged or anticipate being charged with embezzlement in the Murrieta area, contact your Murrieta criminal defense lawyer at the Law Office of Julie Ann Baldwin, APC for your free, confidential case consultation now. Your future and your freedom deserve to be taken seriously by an experienced attorney who is committed to quality representation and compassionate advocacy, every step of the way.

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