Penal Code 504 PC - Embezzlement/Misappropriation by a Public Officer

Penal Code 504 PC is the California statute that makes a public officer guilty of embezzlement if he or she:

  • fraudulently uses any public property or funds, and
  • uses them in a way not consistent with his official authority.

Examples of illegal acts under this code section include:

  • the Mayor of Los Angeles fraudulently sells off public lands and transfers the proceeds from the sale into his own offshore account.
  • a secretary from a California county fraudulently diverts certain tax dollars into her own bank account.
  • the Head of Transportation for a California city fraudulently obtains a city car and gives it to his son so that he can take it on a road-trip with his friends.

Defenses

Luckily, there are several legal defenses that a defendant can raise if accused under PC 504. These include showing that the accused:

  • was not a public officer,
  • did not commit fraud, and
  • acted under duress.

Penalties

A public officer that violates Penal Code 504 is guilty of embezzlement. As such, misappropriation by a public officer is punished as a form of California grand theft or California petty theft, depending on the value and type of property involved. Charges can be filed as either a misdemeanor or a felony (but never as an infraction).

Our California criminal defense attorneys will highlight the following in this article:

money changing hands politics
Penal Code 504 PC is the California statute that says a public officer is guilty of embezzlement if he: fraudulently uses any public property or funds, and uses them in a way not consistent with his official authority.

1. What is the legal definition of embezzlement by a public officer?

Penal Code 504 PC is the California statute that says a public officer is guilty of embezzlement if he:

  • fraudulently uses any public property or funds, and
  • uses them in a way not consistent with his official authority. 1

To use something “fraudulently” means to use it with trickery or by dishonest means.

2. Legal Defenses

A public officer can try to challenge a PC 504 accusation by raising a legal defense. A legal defense may work to reduce or dismiss an embezzlement/misappropriation charge.

Three common defenses to Penal Code 504 charges include:

  1. no public officer;
  2. no fraud; and/or,
  3. duress.

2.1. No public officer

Please know that only public officers can violate Penal Code 504. Therefore, it is always a legal defense for an accused to show that he was not a “public officer” at the time any alleged crime took place.

2.2. No fraud

Please recall that a public officer has to fraudulently use public property or funds before he can be found guilty under PC 504. This means it is a sound legal defense for a defendant to show that there was no fraud involved in his case (e.g., perhaps he misappropriated funds via a simple mistake).

2.3. Duress

Duress is a legal defense in which an accused basically says: “He made me do it.” The defense applies to the very limited situation in which a person commits a crime (here, embezzling property or money), because somebody threatened to kill him if the crime was not committed.

man behind bars
A violation of this law can result in jail time and/or fines

3. Penalties, punishment, and sentencing

A public officer that violates Penal Code 504 is guilty of embezzlement.2 Embezzlement in California can be punished as either a form of:

  • grand theft, per Penal Code 487, or
  • petty theft, per penal Code 484 and 488.

3.1. Grand theft punishment

Embezzlement is charged as grand theft if the property involved was:

  • worth more than $950,
  • an automobile, or
  • a firearm.3

A charge of grand theft is known as a wobbler under California law, meaning it can be charged either a misdemeanor or a felony.4 Either charge may result in:

  • imprisonment, and
  • substantial fines.

3.2. Petty theft punishment

Embezzlement is charged as a form of petty theft if the property involved was less than $950. If this is the case, a defendant can face a misdemeanor charge with a maximum sentence of six months in a county jail.5

4. Related offenses

There are three laws related to embezzlement/misappropriation by a public officer. These are:

  1. embezzlement – PC 503;
  2. grand theft – PC 487; and,
  3. bribery.

4.1. Embezzlement – PC 503

California Penal Code 503 makes it a crime for a person to commit embezzlement.

Per PC 503, embezzlement is defined as fraudulently appropriating property that

  1. belongs to someone else, and
  2. has been entrusted to the defendant.6

Embezzlement in California is punished as a form of California grand theft or California petty theft, depending on the value and type of property involved.7 For penalties involving both of these, please see Sections 3.1 and 3.2 above.

4.2. Grand theft – PC 487

Penal Code 487 is the California statute that defines the crime of "grand theft."

This section defines the offense as the unlawful taking of someone else's property, when the property is valued at $950.00 or more.8

In most cases, the offense of grand theft in California is a wobbler, meaning that it can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony.9

No matter how the crime is charged, it can be punished by:

  • imprisonment, and
  • a substantial fine.

4.3. Bribery

There are several bribery laws in California. In general, bribery is an effort to corruptly influence, by way of money or gift, a public official in the course of that official's work.

Penalties for bribery include:

Are you a public officer and you were accused of embezzlement in California? Call us for help…

california fraud criminal defense
Call us at (855) LAW-FIRM

If you or someone you know has been accused of a crime, per Penal Code 504, we invite you to contact us for a free consultation. We can be reached 24/7 at 855-LawFirm.

(For similar charges and accusations in Colorado, please see our article on Embezzlement of Public Property in Colorado, CRS 18-8-407).


Legal References:

  1. California Penal Code 504. This code section states: “Every officer of this state, or of any county, city, city and county, or other municipal corporation or subdivision thereof, and every deputy, clerk, or servant of that officer, and every officer, director, trustee, clerk, servant, or agent of any association, society, or corporation (public or private), who fraudulently appropriates to any use or purpose not in the due and lawful execution of that person's trust, any property in his or her possession or under his or her control by virtue of that trust, or secretes it with a fraudulent intent to appropriate it to that use or purpose, is guilty of embezzlement.”

  2. See same.

  3. California Penal Code 487 PC.

  4. California Penal Code 489 PC.

  5. California Penal Code 490 PC.

  6. California Penal Code 503 PC.

  7. California Penal Code 514 PC.

  8. California Penal Code 487 PC.

  9. California Penal Code 489 PC.

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