Under Arizona law, people commit the crime of embezzlement if someone else entrusts them with certain property (like money) and they knowingly convert the property to their own without the authority to do so. Embezzlement is considered a type of theft/larceny crime in Arizona as well as a type of white-collar crime. The offense can result in a Class 2 felony charge punishable by over 12 years in state prison.
Arizona’s embezzlement law states: “A person commits [embezzlement] if, without lawful authority, the person knowingly…Converts for an unauthorized term or use services or property of another entrusted to the defendant or placed in the defendant’s possession for a limited, authorized term or use…”
- a bank teller pocketing a customer’s cash deposit.
- an employee purchasing items for personal use on a company credit card.
- the treasurer of a neighborhood club taking money out of the club’s bank account for personal gains.
People accused of embezzlement can challenge the accusation by raising a legal defense. A few possible defenses include defendants showing that:
- they acted with a property owner’s consent,
- they believed they had a right to the property, and/or
- they were entrapped.
Depending on the facts of the case, the crime of embezzlement is either a simple misdemeanor or a felony offense. The value of the property taken/embezzled will determine which type of offense ultimately gets charged.
Violations of this statute can lead to charges of a:
- Class 2 felony,
- Class 3 felony,
- Class 4 felony,
- Class 5 felony,
- Class 6 felony, or
- Class 1 misdemeanor.
Class 2 felonies are the most severe charges and are punishable by up to 12 years and six months in prison.
Class 1 misdemeanors are the least severe charges and are punishable by up to six months in jail time.
In this article, our Phoenix Arizona criminal defense attorneys will discuss what the law is under this statute, defenses available if charged, the penalties for a conviction, and related crimes.
1. How does Arizona law define “embezzlement”?
People are guilty under Arizona embezzlement laws if:
- someone entrusts them with certain property, and
- they knowingly convert that property to their own without any legal authority to do so.i
For purposes of these criminal cases, “property” includes all forms of real property and personal property.ii
A conviction of embezzlement does not require that a person permanently deprive the owner of his/her property. The defendant only has to take the property with the intent to deprive the owner of it, for whatever time.iii
2. Are there defenses to criminal charges of embezzlement?
Criminal defense lawyers and embezzlement lawyers draw upon several legal strategies/disclaimers to help clients challenge embezzlement cases. Three common strategies include lawyers showing that accused people:
- acted with a property owner’s consent.
- believed they had a right to the property.
- were entrapped.
People are only guilty of this offense if they converted someone else’s property without the rightful authority to do so. An embezzlement defense, then, is for defendants to show that they had the property owner’s authority or consent to do something with their property.
2.2 Belief in a right to the property
Accused people are not guilty of embezzlement if they acted with the belief that they had a right to the money or property in question. Please note, though, that this defense only works if a defendant’s belief was reasonable and in good faith. A judge or jury typically decides if such a belief was reasonable by analyzing the facts of a given case.
People are sometimes arrested for embezzlement after an undercover sting operation. If so, any later charges must get dropped if law enforcement lured a suspect into committing the crime.
This “luring” is known as entrapment. It applies to overbearing official conduct, like pressure, harassment, fraud, flattery, or threats. Entrapment is an acceptable legal defense provided that defendants show that they only committed the crime because of the entrapment.
3. What are the penalties?
Arizona law treats criminal cases with embezzlement convictions as serious crimes.
The specific penalties for the offense depend on the value of the property or services that were taken/embezzled.iv
The embezzlement of property or services valued at $25,000 or more is a Class 2 felony, which is punishable by up to 12 years and six months in state prison.
The embezzlement of property or services valued between $4,000 and $25,000 is a Class 3 felony, which is punishable by up to eight years and nine months in prison.
The embezzlement of property or services valued between $3,000 and $4,000 is a Class 4 felony, punishable by up to three years and nine months in prison.
The embezzlement of property or services valued between $2,000 and $3,000 is a Class 5 felony, which is punishable by up to two-and-a-half years in prison.
The embezzlement of property or services valued between $1,000 and $2,000 is a Class 6 felony, which is punishable by up to two years in prison.
The embezzlement of property or services valued under $1,000 is a Class 1 misdemeanor, which is punishable by up to six months in jail.
As to misdemeanors, a judge can award a defendant with three years of probation in lieu of jail time.
4. Are there related offenses?
There are three crimes related to embezzlement. These are:
- burglary – ARS 13-1507,
- robbery – ARS 13-1902, and
- theft – ARS 13-1802.
4.1 Burglary – ARS 13-1507
Per ARS 13-1507, 2nd-degree burglary is the crime where people:
- unlawfully enter or remain in or on a residential structure, and
- do so with the intent to commit any theft or any felony inside.
Unlike with embezzlement, this statute requires that a person unlawfully enter a residential structure prior to committing a theft crime. Embezzlement, rather, simply requires that a person commit a theft.
4.2 Robbery – ARS 13-1902
Under ARS 13-1902, robbery is the crime where people:
- threaten or use force against another while taking property from that person, and
- do so with the intent to make the other person surrender the property.
Unlike with robbery, a person can commit embezzlement without the use or threat of force. The focus is on the conversion of someone else’s property.
4.3 Theft – ARS 13-1802
Under ARS 13-1802, theft is the crime where people knowingly use or take someone else’s property or services without lawful authority to do so.
Embezzlement is a form of theft and is punishable in the same manner as any other theft crime under ARS 13-1802.
For additional help…
For additional guidance or to discuss your case with an embezzlement attorney, we invite you to contact our law firm/law office at the Shouse Law Group. Our attorneys provide both free consultations and free case evaluations.
- Arizona Revised Statutes 13-1802A2. See also State v. Edgar, 126 Ariz. 206 (1980).
- ARS 13-1802K5.
- In re Juvenile Action No. J-98065, 141 Ariz. 404 (1984).
- See ARS 13-1802G.