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Embezzlement Law & Defense

PC 503 Crimes

Information on the crime of embezzlement is found at penal code section 503.


In short, embezzlement is defined as the fraudulent appropriation of property by a person to whom it had been entrusted. For example, a trustee who takes money from a trust, without legal authority, and uses that money to pay for the trustee's personal debts, is embezzling money from the beneficiary of that trust. Embezzlement is most commonly found in connection with businesses where an agent of the business has misappropriated customer or client funds.

To prove that the defendant is guilty of embezzlement, the prosecutor must prove:

  • An owner entrusted his or her property with the defendant

  • The owner did so because he or she trusted the defendant

  • The defendant fraudulently converted or used the property for his or her benefit

  • When the defendant converted or used the property, he or she intended to deprive the owner of the property

Note: There is a difference between entrusting property to a person and giving custody of property to person. For example, a clerk at a convenient store who steals money from the cash register is not committing embezzlement because the money was never entrusted to the clerk in the first place; the clerk is simply taking custody of the money to temporarily hold for the true owner. The clerk in this situation would be charged with the crime of theft, which is similar to, but different than embezzlement.


Sentence for PC 503


PC 503 can be charged as a felony or as a misdemeanor. When embezzlement is filed as a misdemeanor the defendant may face up to one year in the county jail. When embezzlement is filed as a felony the defendant may face up to three years in jail.


Note: Whether or not the district attorney files misdemeanor or felony PC 503 charges against the defendant depends largely on the facts of the case, the amount embezzled,  and the defendant's criminal history.

Probation Sentence: Probation sentences are allowed in PC 503 crimes, but not guaranteed. A probation sentence is a period of supervision in lieu of jail. Misdemeanor probation is called summary probation and felony probation is called formal probation. Misdemeanor probation is monitored by the court and felony probation is monitored by a felony probation officer. Often times, a probation sentence will include some jail alternative sentence such as work release or house arrest.


PC 1170(h): If the defendant is sentenced to jail after a conviction for embezzlement (as opposed to receiving a probation sentence), the defendant will be allowed to serve his jail sentence in a local county jail (as opposed to a state prison), and the defendant may also request to split his or her jail sentence (serve part of the jail sentence out of custody on work release or house arrest), or, suspend the jail sentence (not served unless the defendant violates a term of his or her probation sentence). 

Three Strikes Law: PC 503 is not considered a strike offense in California.

CIMT: Embezzlement is considered a crime involving moral turpitude. A crime of moral turpitude is a crime that involves deceit or dishonesty, and a conviction of which, can have severe negative impact on a person's immigration status (for non U.S. citizens) or professional licensing status (for licensised professionals i.e. dentist, psychologist, lawyer, nurse, teacher, etc.).

Bail: The scheduled bail amount for felony embezzlement is $50,000, or the amount embezzled, whichever is greater (San Bernardino County 2020).

In addition to a jail or prison sentence, criminal convictions of PC 503 can lead to other severe consequences, including: Penalty fines up to $10,000, civil lawsuits and orders for restitution (repayment to victim), loss of firearm rights, criminal protective orders (CPS), , and more.

Defense to Embezzlement

Common defenses to PC 503 charges include: Mistake of fact, insufficient evidence, consent (consent by alleged victim to convert the alleged victim's money or property), claim of right, consent, statute of limitations, coerced confessions, and more.

Note: It is not a defense to an embezzlement charge to show that the defendant intended to, or did replace, the stolen funds. The crime of embezzlement is complete the moment the defendant misappropriated his or her client's or customer's money or property. 

If you have been charged with embezzlement, or penal code 503, contact our criminal defense lawyers without delay to learn your rights and options. There is no fee for a consultation with one of our experienced and successful criminal defense attorneys. Call today!



Crimes Related PC 503

  • Embezzlement by public officer PC 504

  • Embezzlement by fiduciaries of trust PC 506

  • Embezzlement by clerk or agent PC508

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