Embezzlement and theft involve many of the same elements, and are often subject to the same penalties, but it is important to understand what makes them different and unique from one another.
Embezzlement is defined in California law as “the fraudulent appropriation of property by a person to whom it has been entrusted.” Essentially, embezzlement comes down to using an item in a way the owner did not intend when he or she entrusted it to your care.
Theft is defined by California Penal Code 484 as the unlawful taking of someone else’s property. The crime of theft is divided into several different classes, depending on the items involved, the net worth, and the circumstances of the offenses. These different classes include:
- Petty Theft (Penal Codes 484 and 488): the theft of property valued up to $950. This is a misdemeanor, though repeated petty theft can be charged as a felony under Penal Code 666.
- Grand Theft (Penal Code 487): theft of property valued at more than $950, and may be treated as a felony or a misdemeanor, depending on the situation.
- Grand Theft Auto: any theft of an automobile counts as grand theft, even if the automobile is not worth more than $950.
- Grand Theft of a Firearm: as with automobiles, any theft of a firearm is automatically considered grand theft, regardless of its value.
- Burglary: Entering a structure with the intent to commit theft or another felony is considered burglary. If the building is a residence or ‘inhabited dwelling’ the burglary is considered ‘residential’, and counts as a strike in accordance with California’s Three Strikes Law.
- Receiving Stolen Property: The purchase or receipt of any property that a person knows, or should reasonably know, is stolen is punishable under California law.
- Robbery: A person who uses violence, force or threats to take property from someone else’s immediate possession is guilty of robbery, which counts as a strike under the Three Strikes Law
- Carjacking: A person who uses violence, force or threats to take a vehicle from someone’s immediate possession is guilty of carjacking, which counts as a strike under California’s Three Strikes Law
Embezzlement is often included as one of the classes of theft under California law, and the penalties and punishments are often the same. Essentially, embezzlement can be considered a type of theft, but theft does not always (or even usually) come in the form of embezzlement. The crime of embezzlement often involves an employee or representative of a company who funnels money paid to the employer to his or her own personal account; this involves taking funds that were intended for one purpose (such as payment for goods or services) and keeping them for personal gain or funneling them to a purpose that the payer did not intend.
Despite these differences, both offenses typically carry the same punishment. Misdemeanor embezzlement or theft is punishable by up to one year in county jail and up to $1,000 in fines and restitution. Felony embezzlement or theft (referred to as “grand theft” when the amount exceeds $950) is punishable by 16 months, 2 years, or 3 years in county jail and up to $10,000 in fines and restitution.