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What is the difference between embezzlement and theft?

On Behalf of | Jan 7, 2022 | Criminal Defense |

The critical difference between theft and embezzlement is legitimate control or access over the assets. For example, breaking into the office and taking company equipment would be theft. Your employer had not given you any right of control or access to those items, even if you were allowed to use them during the working day.

Diverting hundreds of thousands of dollars from a company account that you manage would be embezzlement. When your employer put you in charge of those funds, you took on a fiduciary duty. In other words, they entrusted you with that money.

Does the value of items matter?

Theft can apply to items of any value. Embezzlement typically, but not exclusively, concerns more significant amounts and carries more severe penalties. It could lead to felony charges at a federal level, although it could be a misdemeanor in some cases.

How can your criminal defense attorney disprove theft or embezzlement?

There are important considerations your attorney will make and questions they’ll ask when building a defense. Those are not all-encompassing, but they are as follows:

  • What is actually missing? If you notice someone simply entered the wrong figure in the accounts, that may solve the issue. If the property is not missing, there are no charges to answer to.
  • You made a mistake: Honest mistakes are not an offense. If you made a mistake and were not trying to deprive someone of their property, that could significantly help your case.
  • Are you really to blame? If you cannot work out where the property is, your defense attorney might need to focus on showing how it would have been impossible for you to have taken it. For instance, you did not have either the knowledge, access or opportunity.
  • You were not stealing: Sometimes, there is a valid reason to move assets from their expected place. There may even be reasons not to have informed others of your actions.
  • You did not have a fiduciary duty: You cannot embezzle something you were not entrusted with. In some cases, seeking to downgrade embezzlement charges to theft may be a necessary last resort.

While embezzlement is a more serious charge than theft, you need to prioritize dealing with any accusation. Contacting a California criminal defense attorney who understands your legal options will be crucial to protecting your reputation and future.