Many public officers with the task of overseeing or handling public funds usually hold their posts with little oversight. Sometimes they may misuse the funds they control to enrich themselves using the funds under their trust. According to California PC 424, any public officer convicted or accused of misappropriating public funds is at risk of facing hefty fines and lengthy jail terms.
If you face a charge for violating California PC 424 in Chula Vista, CA, you want to speak with an experienced criminal defense attorney. At Chula Vista Criminal Attorney, we are here to help you fight the charges. We have intricate knowledge about California laws. We have defended numerous clients facing similar charges in California.
Understanding California Penal Code 424
The crime is outlined under California PC 424. The crime entails public officers in public trust positions but misusing their authority by inappropriately using the public money under their control.
Who is a Public Officer in California?
An official of the local or state government is any employee or official of the federal, local, or state government. The officials include appointed or elected officers or any other person working for the government as an attorney. You must be working with the government to face charges for violating PC 424. The crime is outlined under California penal code 424. You should have control over the public funds, meaning you are entrusted to the funds through safekeeping, disbursement, or receipt.
For instance, Jane is employed in the accounting offices of a university, where the students pay money. During the holiday, Jane takes $20,000 from the office to use the funds for a vacation in Africa. Therefore, she can face charges for the crime even when she is not a public officer.
The term appropriate means obtaining the public funds and using them for personal use. For instance, Joe is a finance officer in a government agency. The agency receives funds from the government. Joe can access the money. His spouse faces allegations of operating a car while under drugs. So, Joe uses the funds to hire an attorney to defend his wife. Under This case, Joe can face charges for violation of PC 4242.
Before you face conviction for the crime, the prosecution team must prove you were negligent while performing the crime. The law considers criminal negligence a higher liability level than ordinary negligence. Criminal negligence translates as you behaved with gross or reckless disregard. For instance, Joseph is appointed as a town manager. He has the responsibility of managing the finances of the town. His close friend comes and asks for the funds from the public treasury. Joseph decides to share the money with his friend. Under this case, Joseph can face charges for misappropriation of public funds.
Instances to Describe California Penal Code 424
There are several instances in which you can commit misappropriation of public funds. Below are the various ways that can lead to a conviction for the crime:
Appropriating Public Money Without Legal Authority
In California, the most common form of misappropriation of public funds is appropriating public money without legal authority. The act involves taking public money and using it for personal purposes or giving it illegally to others. Before you face conviction, the prosecution team must show you are a local or state government public official responsible for the public funds. The officials include elected or nominated officers. In many instances, public funds are obtained for personal purposes. In rare cases, perpetrators take the funds to benefit their friends and family members. But it does not make any sense before the court concerning who received the funds, provided a public officer unlawfully issued them.
Again to face conviction for the crime, the prosecutor must prove the law prohibited you from misusing the funds. The prosecutor must also show you were negligent by disobeying the law. In California, Criminal negligence applies when you fail to find your actions are unlawful and are above ordinary negligence.
Altering, Destroying, Changing, or Making Fake Accounts
The crime entails knowingly destroying, altering, and making false accounts to show how the funds were used. The offense also includes entering false records and deleting or omitting true records. Apart from keeping the false records, the prosecutor must demonstrate you had the aim to defraud the recipients of the funds. Creating a false account is a criminal offense by itself in California.
Profiting, Loaning, or Misusing the Public Monies Without Authority
In California, you may face conviction under the statute when:
- You are a state or local public officer facing charges of misusing public funds.
- The state's law prohibits you from loaning or making profits from the public funds.
- You planned to use the alleged funds by loaning or profiting them against the law.
- You knew loaning or profiting from the public funds was illegal.
Wrongfully Transferring or Refusing to Pay the Public Funds
You can face prosecution for PC 424 when you refuse to pay or transfer public monies when the law requires you to pay or transfer the funds. Note that you can face charges for misappropriation of public monies when you knew you should have moved the funds but negligently refused to perform your duty as a public officer in charge of public funds.
The Legal Penalties for Violating California Penal Code 424
Under California laws, the crime is a felony. Therefore, when you are guilty of the crime, you will face the following possible penalties:
- A fine of up to $10,000.
- State imprisonment for a period between 2, 3, or 4 years.
- Formal or felony probation.
Remember, the penalties will also vary from person to person based on the offense's nature. For example, the defendants with a prior conviction will face harsher penalties than first-time offenders. Also, the penalties would be more difficult for the offenders who obtain significant funds. In addition to the above penalties, you will not be able to hold a public office at the local or state level.
Formal or Felony Probation
The criminal court judges may decide to convert the felony charge to formal or felony probation. Formal probation is a process that ensures you receive rehabilitation to become a responsible citizen. When the court grants you probation, you serve the term under the control of a probation expert. In many cases, formal probation runs for up to 12 months. Once the court decides to place you under probation, there are specific conditions that you must follow. The following are the common conditions of formal probation terms:
- You Engage in Community service or labor.
- You Pay a restitution fee.
- You Meet with your probation expert regularly.
- You will be subject to Unwarranted seizures and searches on your property.
When you fail to follow the above conditions of the probation, the criminal court judge may decide to terminate your probation and order you to return to the detention facility. Additionally, the court may impose a maximum sentence.
What are the Potential Defenses for Fighting California PC 424 Charge?
When you face the charge of violating PC 4242, you may find the situation stressful and intimidating, especially when you are against the government. You might even risk losing your career. In addition, you have a bad reputation and a terrible criminal record. However, an accusation for the crime does not mean you are guilty of the offense. You can use several defense strategies to fight the charge. Start by hiring a well-skilled criminal defense attorney. The attorney can use the following legal defenses to help you fight the charge:
Lack of Intent
One of the essential elements of misappropriation of public funds is your intent to commit the crime. Therefore you are not guilty of the crime until the prosecutor proves your intent to commit the crime. If you disapprove of the court on your intention to defraud, the judge may consider dropping your case or reducing it to a less severe offense. Remember, the prosecutor has difficulty proving your intent to commit the crime. But you want to note that ignorance of the law is not a lawful defense. You need to present evidence to support your actions were reasonable and honest.
The Misuse of the Public Funds was Minimal or Incidental
According to the state's laws, you can only face charges for the crime when the alleged funds are considerable. Provide evidence to support your claim. So, the court can dismiss your claim when the funds are reasonably low. But the fact, whether the funds were minimal or incidental depends on the nature and the facts surrounding the case. Ensure you discuss everything about your claim with your criminal defense attorney.
It is common for rogue law enforcement officers to be involved in various forms of misbehavior during arrests, interrogations, and investigations. For example, law enforcement officers must have a warrant to seize or search your property. So, if your case is similar, you can use the gathered evidence to fight the charge. Other ways of misconduct may include:
- You Provide false evidence at the criminal court.
- Forcible interrogations.
- The police fail to provide a lawyer upon your request.
You need to develop solid evidence to show the law enforcement officers committed misconduct during your arrest. After presenting the evidence, the court allows your attorney to file a suppression motion hearing requiring the court to dismiss any evidence gathered via law enforcement misconduct. When the criminal court grants you the motion, you will have a high chance of dismissing the case.
It is rare to face conviction based on false allegations, but it might still happen. Someone can accuse you of the crime because of jealousy or aiming at revenge. You can present evidence before the court to prove you are a victim of false accusations. You cannot face conviction if the court does not find direct evidence of the unlawful act. Do not keep quiet until you face conviction due to false allegations; discuss the case with your criminal defense attorney.
You Acted Out of Necessity
The government keeps public funds in secure accounts under the control of certain people. So you can face conviction for misappropriation of public funds when you intend to misuse the public funds. For example, you are a public officer and realize a specific person with authority over public accounts indents to misuse the funds. So, you decide to transfer the money to another account until investigations are done, but in the process, you face allegations of misappropriation of public funds. When this is your case, the court may decide to dismiss your charge upon determining you had no intent to commit the crime.
The Alleged Funds Do Not Qualify as Public Funds
Note public money or funds come from the government to assist the public in obtaining goods or services. Usually, the government generates these funds from licensing, fines, and taxation. So, you cannot face accusations for the crime when these funds are generated from your account. The situation is familiar in many nongovernmental agencies.
You Acted Out of Duress
The court can pardon your criminal conduct when you committed the crime because you believed you were in immediate danger. However, your criminal defense attorney should prove you faced threats from another person. The evidence your attorney can provide to the court includes text messages and recorded calls to show your innocence. After establishing the facts, the criminal court will prosecute the actual perpetrator and drop your charges.
You Used the Alleged Funds for the Required Purpose
You might face accusations for the crime, whereas you used the money for the required purposes. You can disapprove the prosecutor by presenting the necessary receipts to show you used the funds for the appropriate purposes. Your attorney needs to show you had no intent to misuse the funds as your acts were under your superiors' direction. By doing so, the court will consider dropping your case.
The last defense your attorney can use to fight a misappropriation of public funds charge is mistaken identity. Due to the hasty investigations by the law enforcement officers, they may mistake you for the actual perpetrator. Your attorney may claim the police identified you through assumption. For example, you work in a bank under the accounting department and face allegations for the money you did not take. The investigating officers can assume you because you work in the accounting department. If your attorney provides evidence to show you are subject to mistaken identity, the court will drop your charges and arrest the perpetrator.
Other Crimes Charged Alongside Misappropriation of Public Funds in California
There are various criminal charges alongside the misappropriation of public funds. The crime, however, carries unique penalties. The prosecution team may decide to charge you with these charges instead of facing misuse of public funds charges. The crimes are discussed as follows:
According to California laws, bribery takes place when you give someone money or something of value with the intent to influence their actions or decisions. Both the recipient and the person giving the bribe can face conviction for bribery. Many bribe cases aim at altering or changing decisions that result in political or public corruption. To face conviction, the prosecution team must show your intent to receive or give the bribe. The law considers the act of bribery when you issue an item of value to receive favor in return. Bribery takes place in various forms, including:
- Commercial bribery
- Bribery of or by the witness
- Bribery of jurors and judicial officers
- Bribery by legislators
- Bribery by or of an executive officer
The Penalties of Bribery
Bribery is a federal offense in California, mainly when bribery affects the public. As the defendant of the bribery charge, you will face the following penalties:
- When you do not receive the bribe, you will face a fine not exceeding $10,000.
- Forfeiture of the office.
- When you receive the bribe, you will face a fine not exceeding $2,000. When the bribe involves large amounts, you will pay a fine not exceeding $10,000.
What are the Legal Defenses for Bribery?
As mentioned above, penalties for a California bribery charge are severe. But facing allegations of the crime does not mean you will face conviction. Remember, you can fight the charges by working close to a well-skilled and experienced criminal defense attorney. The attorney can use the following defenses to fight the charge:
- You did not have the intent to commit the crime
- Police entrapment
- Voluntary intoxication
- Mistaken identity
Embezzlement – PC 503
Embezzlement involves the fraudulent appropriation of an item or property by a person. Before you face conviction for the crime, the prosecutor must prove the following elements:
- The property owner entrusted their item or property to you
- You had the intent to deprive the property
- The property owner entrusted their property to you because they trusted you
- You used or converted the owner's property for your benefits
Remember, the case must involve the relationship of trust. You cannot also face conviction for the crime when the property did not bring any form of benefit to you. Lastly, the court should prove you intend to deprive the property for you to face conviction.
The Legal Penalties
When you face conviction for embezzlement in California, the penalties will vary based on the embezzled property. Under California laws, embezzlement occurs in grand theft or petty theft. When the alleged property has a value below $950, you will face a misdemeanor charge in addition to 12 months of jail time. You will also pay a fine not exceeding $1,000. Alternatively, when the property's value exceeds $950, you will face a felony charge. A felony charge attracts a jail term of 90 days and a fine not exceeding $10,000.
How to Fight Embezzlement Charges in California?
Embezzlement charges differ from theft charges. The allegations and accusations of the crime tarnish your reputation. You might also find it challenging to secure a job in the future. Therefore you want to do everything possible to fight the charge. Start by contacting an experienced criminal defense attorney. The attorney can use the following defenses to fight the charges:
- No fraudulent use
- You believed the property belonged to you
- you did not have the intent to deprive the property in question
- insufficient evidence
Forgery can happen in various forms. It can include handling fraudulent checks, writing a will without authority, or filing false insurance claims. The law considers forgery a crime of moral turpitude. The law is outlined under California PC 470. The prosecutor must prove the crime's elements before you face conviction. The elements include:
- you had intent to commit the crime
- the written document
- you were altering, making, or falsely signing a written record
What are the Penalties for Forgery?
The law considers the crime a misdemeanor in California. It means you can either face misdemeanor or felony charges. When punished as a misdemeanor, you will face the following penalties:
- A fine not exceeding $1,000
- Summary probation
- A county jail not exceeding 12 months
The felony charges for forgery are more severe than the misdemeanor charges. The penalties for felony charges include:
- Formal probation
- Jail time for up to 3 years
- Fine not exceeding $10,000
The Legal Defenses
As discussed above, the crime of forgery carries hectic fines and extensive jail terms in California. But you can still fight the charges by working closely with a criminal defense attorney. The attorney will help you collect the necessary evidence to help you build strong defenses. The following are the legal defenses the attorney can use to fight a forgery charge:
- False accusations
- No intent to commit the crime
Contact a Chula Vista Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me
A conviction for the misappropriation of public funds can be frustrating. The conviction attracts devastating consequences, including the inability to hold a public office again. However, an aggressive criminal defense attorney can help you navigate the legal process and fight the charges.
At Chula Vista Criminal Attorney, our attorneys have practical experience in California laws. We can build a solid defense, challenge the evidence presented by the prosecutor and ensure you obtain the best possible outcomes for your case. Call us at 619-877-6894 either daytime or nighttime, and we will schedule an appointment.