White collar crimes may not seem as dangerous as violent crimes, but they can lead to significant financial losses to the affected. That is why the state of California has stringent laws in place to protect victims of white collar crimes. Since most of these crimes are committed behind the scene, it is possible for an innocent person to be arrested and charged with a white collar crime. If this happens, it is important to know that the California Criminal Lawyer Group is here to help. With proper criminal defense services, you may not be found guilty of the crime, or your charges could be reduced to a much lenient conviction.
Understanding White Collar Crimes
Also called corporate crimes, white collar crimes refer to nonviolent crimes that are usually financially motivated, committed mostly by people in business and government professionals. Offenders, in this case, are often people that are respectable and of a higher social status, and they commit such crimes in the course of their jobs. There are many types of white collar crimes, and it will be discussed later in the article, but the most common types are cybercrime, embezzlement, insider trading, wage theft, forgery, identity theft, labor racketeering, bribery, and Ponzi schemes among others.
The name ‘white collar crimes’ is usually a generic one and is used to generalize all the crimes committed by executives who mostly work in offices or similar environments as opposed to other physical crimes that are committed by other blue-collar workers. These kinds of crimes are a little complicated as they make use of sophisticated techniques and tricks, which is why it is not easy to catch an offender in the act.
This is also the reason why many people can easily be falsely accused of committing a white collar crime. Finding a good criminal defense attorney is the first step in getting you out of jail if you are facing charges for a white collar crime that you did not commit.
Another reason why white collar crimes are taken very seriously is because of the nature of losses the victims suffer in the end. The monetary losses associated with these crimes can be quite significant. For this reason, huge penalties are in place to ensure that offenders are severely punished for their actions. The penalties may include hefty fines, payment of restitution, several years in prison, and home/community confinement, among others.
If you are facing charges for a white collar crime, it is advisable to get in touch with a good criminal defense attorney who will listen to your case, develop a defense plan and represent you in court to ensure that your rights are respected.
Common Types of White Collar Crimes
As mentioned above, there are all kinds of white collar crimes in California, with the most common ones being:
Bribery is defined as an effort to influence another person corruptly and by the use of money or gifts. Bribing a public officer in the course of their duty, is convicted as a felony in California. There are several statutes under the California Laws that provide various statutes against bribery as below:
- Bribing an executive and ministerial officer as well as public employees as provided under Sections 67 & 68 of California laws
- Bribing a California legislative officer as provided under Sections 85 & 86 of California Legal Code
- Bribing a supervisor and a public corporation as provided under Section 165 of California statutes
- Bribing a judicial officer and the jurors as provided under Sections 92 & 93 of California laws
- Bribing a witness to prevent them from testifying as provided under Sections 137 & 138 of California laws
- Commercial bribery as provided under Section 641.3 of California laws
The reason why there are many statutes in place against bribery is that society already treats the offense as very repugnant. The law is there to protect the members of the public from being swindled out of important government services.
Under California laws, bribery is defined as any valuable thing or advantage that is given or promised in an attempt to corrupt or influence another person illegally, for them to change their action or opinion in an official or public capacity. A case of bribery will affect both parties involved in the transaction; this means that both the person offering the bribe and the official seeking it will face bribery charges.
When facing bribery charges, it will not matter if you received or gave a bribe. The mere thought of it and acting on that thought will count as a punishable crime in the state of California.
Elements of bribery crime:
These are the most common elements of this crime:
- That the offender gave or offered a public officer something valuable, with a corrupt intent to influence an official matter
- That a public officer asked for, received or agreed to receive something valuable with a corrupt intent to influence an official matter
The prosecutor must prove these elements beyond a reasonable doubt for the accused to be found guilty.
A public officer, in this case, could be any of the following:
- A district attorney
- A police chief
- A police officer
- A deputy city coroner
- A California state senator
- A city council officer
- A member of the board of supervisors
- A judge
- A juror
- A witness
- An apparent authority
Note the following:
The officer involved does not need to have technical authority over a given case. What is important is that the officer acted within the general scope of their authority
The agreement is not an element in this crime. Both sides do not need to agree to the bribe for the defendant to be found guilty of the offense.
The value of the money or gift offered does not matter as long as it can facilitate corruption
Penalties for bribery:
Bribery is a severe crime in California and will attract severe penalties, which might include fines and time behind bars. The offender might also lose their job and status in society. Most cases of bribery are convicted as felonies except for certain situations such as bribery involving an amount less than $400. This means that the offender can get a state prison term of between two and four years.
The offender may also be required to pay restitution as follows:
- $2,000-$10,000 of compensation if the bribery was not received
- Restitution equal to the amount of bribe received or $2000, whichever of the two is greater
- Restitution equal to double the amount of bribe received or $10,000, whichever of the two is greater
A public officer involved in bribery may be required to forfeit their office and may never get it back.
Credit Card Fraud
Credit card fraud refers to any crime that involves the use of payment cards like debit or credit card to obtain money in a transaction fraudulently. The offense may entail fraudulently using a credit or debit card to obtain goods or services without paying, or to obtain cash from such a card or account. Just like in the crime of bribery, credit card fraud is covered by several statutes under California Laws as follows:
- Use of stolen cards as provided under Section 484e. This is the law that will prosecute any person that is found guilty of acquiring, possessing, transferring, or selling credit card data belonging to another person without the consent of that other person.
- Forgery of credit card data as provided under Section 484f. This law makes it illegal for a person to alter the information of a valid credit card, or create a new credit card using another person’s information such as their name, without that person’s consent.
- The illegal use of a credit card or account fraudulently as provided under Section 484g. This law makes it illegal for any person to use a fake, stolen, forged, revoked, expired, or altered credit card to obtain goods or pay for services, knowing too well that the credit card account is invalid.
- Use of an invalid credit card by a retailer as provided under Section 484h. This law makes it illegal for a retailer to accept payments made by a stolen, revoked, expired, or a counterfeit credit card when they are well aware that the credit card account is invalid. It also makes it illegal for a retailer to present false evidence of a credit card transaction to obtain money from a credit card company when no such deal took place.
- It is illegal to counterfeit a credit card as provided under Section 484i. Under this law, it is unlawful for any person to possess or manufacture a counterfeit credit card, or even have any equipment believed to be used in the making or circulation of counterfeit credit cards.
- Illegal publishing of credit card data as provided under Section 484j. Under this law, it is unlawful for a person to intentionally give out credit card data of another person to defraud that person.
Credit card fraud can lead to the loss of much money by the affected people, which is why it is among the most heavily punished white collar crimes in the state of California. The crime itself is a wobbler under California laws, and so, it can be convicted as either a misdemeanor or a felony. If prosecuted as a felony, the accused can get a sentence of up to three years behind bars. If the offender only possessed stolen or counterfeit credit cards but didn’t use them, the offense will be treated the same as petty theft offense and will be convicted as a misdemeanor, punishable by a maximum of six months of incarceration.
Counterfeiting a credit card or falsifying credit card data is a more severe offense and is convicted as a felony, punishable by a prison term of not more than three years.
According to California laws Section 503, embezzlement is defined as fraudulently taking another person's property that had been entrusted to you. This crime revolves around many elements or facts that a prosecutor must prove to find an accused guilty of the offense. These are:
- That someone entrusted you with a property, directly or through an agent
- That the person entrusted you with the property because they trusted you
- That you fraudulently used or converted that property to your own or for your benefit
- That by doing so, you intended to take away that property from its rightful owner or its use
A person will still face charges for embezzlement even if they did not keep the property but only needed to use it for a short while.
An embezzlement charge would apply only if the owner entrusted you with something because they trusted you. In that case, this crime could be committed by employees, a bailee such as a valet or mechanic, or property managers.
There must be an element of fraudulently converting or using that property for your benefit. A person entrusted with something can act fraudulently if they take advantage of another person, or bring loss to that person by breach of trust, confidence, or duty. This means that a person cannot be found guilty of embezzlement if the owner of the property does not suffer loss from the accused's actions or the accused does not gain from it.
Penalties for California embezzlement
The punishment an offender can get from embezzlement is determined by the amount of money or worth of the property they are accused of embezzling.
If the value of the property you are accused of embezzling is more than $950, or the property is an automobile or a firearm, you will face grand theft embezzlement charges and penalties as provided under Section 487 of California Laws. Similarly, an employee who fraudulently embezzles their employer more than $950 in total, but on different occasions, all within a span of 12 months, he/she will face grand theft embezzlement charges.
In most cases, grand theft embezzlement is a wobble, and will thus be convicted as either a misdemeanor or a felony. The judge will decide how to convict you based on the circumstances of your case and your criminal history. As a misdemeanor, the offender will get a maximum of one year in jail, a fine of a maximum of $1000, or misdemeanor probation. As a felony, grand theft embezzlement will be punishable through felony probation, between 16 months to 3 years of imprisonment and/or a fine of not more than $10,000
Other embezzlement cases that do not fit the definition of grand theft embezzlement are considered as petty theft embezzlement in the state of California, as provided under Section 488. The potential penalties for this offense are a maximum of 6 months in jail and/or a fine of not more than $1000.
There are mitigating factors that could heighten your grand theft embezzlement charges. If the victim, in your case, was a dependent person or an elderly, the judge will give you a more severe sentence that may include additional years in jail and a substantial fine.
In California, forgery is provided under Section 470 of the state’s laws and is defined as knowingly signing someone else's name, faking a seal or another person's handwriting, or falsifying a legal document, all to commit fraud. Fraud can be committed by faking a person's signature or handwriting or even by creating a new, fake document for personal gain or benefit. Note that until all this is done to commit fraud, a person may never be found guilty of this offense.
A person is also guilty of forgery if they aid or abet in the commission of the crime of forgery. If you are found guilty of having helped another person commit any of these actions, you will face charges of abetting or aiding forgery as provided under Section 470 of California laws:
- Signing someone else’s name on a legal document without their authority, knowing too well that doing so was wrong
- Forging or counterfeiting another person’s seal or handwriting
- Forgery by corrupting, falsifying or altering a legal document for fraud
- Falsely modifying, making, or publishing certain documents such as checks, money orders, stock certificates, real estate documents, and contracts, among others.
By aiding in the commission of fraud, you may have:
- Been aware that the person had intentions of committing forgery
- Known too well that you were assisting another person to commit forgery
- Helped, instigated, or encouraged another person to commit forgery
There are cases of forgery that are usually sophisticated and well planned, and those that involve the use of technology. Others will include more than one person. The judge will consider the circumstances surrounding your case before announcing your sentence.
Penalties for California forgery
The crime of forgery is a wobbler in California and will, hence, be convicted as either a felony or a misdemeanor. If the forged document is a bond, check, bank bill, traveler's checks, cashier's check, or money order and the value of that document is less than $950; the defendant may be convicted with misdemeanor forgery. The punishments for this may include a maximum of one year in jail, a fine of not more than $1000, and/or informal probation. The offender will be required to pay restitution to their victims.
A felony forgery conviction, on the other hand, will be punished by 16 months, two or three years behind bars, a fine of not more than $10,000 and/or felony probation. The offender will also be required to pay restitution to their victims and probably attend a bad check diversion program.
Possible Defenses for White Collar Crimes in California
Getting a conviction for a white collar crime can alter your life for good. Offenders are left serving jail terms for a long time, paying fines and restitution, and some lose their jobs and status in the society. To avoid facing these and other penalties and consequences that come with such crimes, it is advisable to seek the support of a criminal defense attorney. A good attorney will be willing to devise a good defense plan that will convince the judge to either drop your charges or reduce them to a much lenient charge. Here are some possible defense strategies your attorney can use:
Lack of criminal intent
This is a common defense for white collar crimes that require a person to have the intention of defrauding another for them to be prosecuted. In a case of fraud or forgery, for instance, the prosecutor must prove that you intended to gain from your actions for the court to find you guilty of the offense. Your attorney can help show that you did not have the intent to defraud another person. If the argument is accepted, then your charges could be reduced to a more lenient charge.
Like mentioned earlier, white collar crimes are committed behind the scenes. This means that there is likely to be no witnesses to the crime. For this reason, it is easy for one person to accuse another of such crimes as bribery or fraud even if they are not guilty of the same. An experienced attorney will take time to investigate your case to prove that you are indeed innocent and that another person was guilty of the crime you are accused of committing.
You had good faith in taking the property
This is a defense strategy that can be used in case you are facing embezzlement charges, and you are sure that you have the right to the property in question. The court will believe that you had good faith in taking the property if you did so openly without hiding your actions, and you did not take over the property because the owner owes you something.
Find a California Criminal Lawyer Group Law Firm Near Me
White collar crime charges can devastatingly change your life in a minute. The best thing to do is to contact a criminal defense attorney to ensure that your rights are protected. California Criminal Lawyer Group offers expert legal criminal defense services to people who are facing similar charges in San Jose, California. Call us at 408-622-0204 and let us help, advise, and represent you throughout the legal process.
If you are looking for a San Diego criminal attorney check out these law firms: San Diego Criminal Lawyer