California Embezzlement Penalties Overview

Free & Confidential Consultations

Embezzlement is a white-collar crime that involves a person appropriating property with which they were entrusted. A criminal conviction for embezzlement can involve a jail or prison sentence and significant monetary fines. 

Additionally, embezzlement is considered a crime of dishonesty. A conviction for a crime of dishonesty makes it easier for prosecutors to present unfavorable information about you during future trials.

So if you have a prior conviction for a crime of dishonesty and go to trial on a new charge in the future, the prosecutor can use that prior conviction to make you seem untrustworthy and attack your credibility on the stand.

And an embezzlement conviction can prevent you from securing employment and affect your ability to hold public office.

Questions that may arise after accusations of embezzlement include the following:

  • What is embezzlement?
  • What are the penalties for embezzlement in California?
  • Do I need to hire a lawyer to defend me against embezzlement charges?

Our team has decades of experience protecting the rights of individuals facing criminal charges in California. To speak with a white collar crime lawyer, contact us today.

What Is Embezzlement?

Embezzlement occurs when someone fraudulently appropriates property that was entrusted to them. This position of trust must exist to sustain an embezzlement charge. Otherwise, misappropriating someone else’s property is simply considered theft. 

The embezzlement statute provides examples of some relationships that can give rise to embezzlement charges. For example, an employee who appropriates property that has come into their care by virtue of their employment commits embezzlement.

Consider an employee tasked with delivering a daily cash deposit to the bank. Instead of depositing the cash into the business account, they occasionally deposit it into their personal account.

Because the employee is tasked with depositing the cash as part of their employment, the misappropriation is considered embezzlement.

A person entrusted with a piece of real property as a bailee, tenant, or lodger commits embezzlement if they fraudulently convert the property for their own use or appropriate the proceeds from the sale of the property.

Family members, attorneys, and other agents can face embezzlement charges if they fraudulently appropriate proceeds from a decedent’s estate. 

Embezzlement Penalties in California

The penalties for embezzlement in California vary based on the value of the misappropriated property.

If the value is $950 or more, the embezzlement is considered grand theft under California Penal Code §487. A grand theft charge can be a misdemeanor or a felony.

It depends on the discretion of the prosecutor and the facts of the case, such as:

  • Prior convictions,
  • Value of losses,
  • Level of sophistication used in the embezzlement scheme, and
  • The victim’s vulnerability.

Felony grand theft carries a potential sentence of up to three years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000. Misdemeanor grand theft carries a potential sentence of up to one year in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.

If the value of the property appropriated is less than $950, the embezzlement is petty theft. Petty theft carries the following potential penalties:

  • Up to one year in jail,
  • Summary probation, and
  • A fine of up to $1,000.

The property’s fair market value at the time the offense was committed determines its value.

Aggravators for an Embezzlement Sentence in California

As stated above, certain circumstances can increase the maximum potential penalty for an embezzlement conviction. Prosecutors can request a white-collar crime sentencing enhancement if the following factors exist:

  • At least two felonies were committed,
  • The felonies were related,
  • The felonies involved embezzlement or fraud,
  • Losses are valued at more than $100,000, and
  • The alleged conduct demonstrated a pattern.

If the prosecutor can establish each of these factors, you can face an additional five years in prison and up to $500,000 more in fines.

Defenses to Embezzlement Charges

The prosecutor must prove every element of the embezzlement charge beyond a reasonable doubt to prevail at trial.

In some cases, a legal defense can defeat one of these elements and influence the prosecutor to reduce or dismiss your charge. Some defenses that can help defeat liability in an embezzlement case include the following:

  • Lack of intent to appropriate the property for your own use,
  • Lack of control of the property in question,
  • You had the authorization to use or alter the property,
  • You had a good-faith belief that you were entitled to the property you appropriated,
  • You only embezzled the property because you were under duress, and
  • Lack of evidence.

A legal defense does not apply to every case. Our team of experienced embezzlement lawyers can review your case and determine whether a defense applies.

How Can a Criminal Defense Lawyer Help Me?

An embezzlement conviction can result in harsh consequences that affect the rest of your life. In fact, a felony conviction can affect your right to legally own a firearm and your immigration status, if applicable.

A defense attorney will negotiate with the district attorney on your behalf and fight to secure the best outcome available.

An embezzlement attorney can assist you by:

  • Requesting surveillance footage,
  • Obtaining the police report detailing the incident,
  • Locating witnesses to testify on your behalf,
  • Crafting a legal strategy to show the weaknesses in the State’s case, and
  • Preparing your case for trial, if necessary.

If law enforcement tries to discuss the accusations against you, contact an embezzlement lawyer at The Law Offices of Kerry L. Armstrong, APLC, right away. 

Do You Have Questions About Embezzlement Charges and Penalties in California? Contact The Law Offices of Kerry L. Armstrong, APLC, Today

While embezzlement may appear relatively harmless compared to other criminal offenses, it can result in long prison sentences and steep fines.

Our criminal defense attorneys at The Law Offices of Kerry L. Armstrong, APLC, have defended thousands of criminal cases and understand the complexities of a California embezzlement charge.

Our founding attorney, Kerry L. Armstrong, possesses extensive knowledge of the criminal justice process and protecting the rights of his clients.

Mr. Armstrong has received recognition from the San Diego Criminal Defense Bar Association, being named “Trial Attorney of the Year” in 2013. He is also a California State Bar-certified criminal law specialist.

We are confident in our ability to secure a favorable outcome in your case. Contact our office today to schedule your free consultation. 

Author Photo

Kerry L. Armstrong


Attorney Kerry Armstrong opened up his law firm in June 2007. Mr. Armstrong attended Thomas Jefferson School of Law, San Diego, California, and received his B.S. from Middle Tennessee State University. Kerry L. Armstrong became certified by the State Bar of California’s Board of Legal Specialization for criminal law in August 2020, making him one of the few criminal defense attorneys with a criminal law legal specialization certificate in San Diego County.  Between 2014 – 2019, Mr. Armstrong was selected for inclusion in the California Super Lawyers list, an honor only awarded to 5% of the nation’s attorneys.