Misappropriation of public funds is a white-collar offense committed when government officials misuse or use public funds to enrich themselves. If you get charged with the misappropriation of public funds, possible penalties are severe. Upon conviction, you could serve a lengthy prison sentence or pay hefty fines.

If you or your loved one is battling these charges, seek legal guidance and defense from a competent criminal defense attorney. At California Criminal Lawyer Group, we work hard to maximize the chances of a favorable outcome to your criminal case.

Overview of California Penal Code 424

Penal Code 424 of California statutes prohibits public funds misuse by government officials or any other person who controls the money. Individuals serving in public offices could have power and control over public funds. A significant percentage of people in these positions misuse public funds to benefit themselves. Misappropriating public funds is similar to embezzlement, and the key difference is that the former involves public funds. 

Often, local and state officers are prone to misusing public funds. Understand that you do not need a permanent government job to get convicted under PC 424. Since law enforcers act on white-collar crimes fast, you could be falsely accused.

Before getting convicted for misappropriation of public funds in California, the prosecutor must prove the following elements without a reasonable doubt:

  1. You were a government official working in a particular city town or district and had control over public funds
  2. As such, you were tasked with safekeeping, receipt, transfer, or disbursement of public money
  3. You took advantage of your public trust position to access the funds and misused or misappropriated them. Misappropriation of funds means that you used public funds for personal benefit.
  4. You knew that the law prohibits such acts
  5. You acted with negligence since you had the authority to make the appropriation. When proving your guilt for misappropriation of public funds, the prosecutor should demonstrate that you acted with criminal negligence. This means that you knew you could not use the funds but ignored that fact. Criminal negligence is a higher form of liability as compared to ordinary negligence.

There are several ways through which one could misuse public funds, and these acts attract criminal charges:

Unlawfully Loaning Public Funds to Oneself or Another Person

Under this category, the misuse of public funds involves lending public money out to gain interest. Although loaning public funds is different from using it for personal benefit, these activities are violations under penal code 424. Under normal circumstances, public officials are not allowed to loan out funds meant for public use. If you do so, you will get arrested and charged for misappropriation of funds.

For a prosecutor to prove you are guilty of this offense, they must establish the following elements:

  • You were an official of the state
  • You were not authorized to loan the funds under certain circumstances
  • You loaned public funds to yourself or another person
  • You knew that your actions were illegal, and you failed to consider this fact.

Appropriation of Public Funds without Proper Authority

The misuse of public funds without authority involves taking the money entrusted to you for your benefit. Before you get convicted under these circumstances, it must be clear that you were an officer of the state or local government who was in charge of the funds. This includes officials, those holding power and are in charge of government funding.

In most cases, the money could have been taken for personal use or to benefit the family. For you to be found guilty of this offense, you must have known that misusing public funds was illegal in California.

Making False Accounts or Unlawfully Changing Public Accounts 

Altering or creating false accounts with the intent to misappropriate public funds can get you arrested and charged under PC 424. You do not need to misappropriate public funds by yourself to face charges. Altering or destroying accounts meant for public funds with fraudulent intent is a violation of California Penal Code 424. If you face criminal charges for making false accounts to defraud public funds, you need legal guidance.

Wrongfully Refusing to Transfer Public Funds 

Apart from misappropriating public funds, you could get convicted for failing to pay public money. When a valid draft order or warrant is submitted for public funds, refusal to comply with the order is a criminal offense. A prosecutor must prove that you failed to pay or transfer public funds, and your actions were criminally negligent. Also, you must have been aware that failing to transfer the funds was illegal per the circumstances.

Possible Legal Penalties for Misappropriation of Public Funds

In California, misappropriation of public funds is charged as a felony. However, the severity of penalties varies from case to case. Upon conviction, you could face the following penalties:

  • A prison sentence of two to four years
  • Formal probation. When you are subjected to formal probation, you must adhere to all rules set by the court. This will help increase your chances of getting an expungement for your criminal record
  • Fines that do not exceed $10,000

If you have a prior criminal record for theft crimes or other felonies, you will likely receive a harsher penalty. In addition to the legal penalties, you may lose your position at the public office. Also, prospects to hold office in the state or local government get derailed. If you or your loved one faces charges for misappropriation of public funds, guidance from a competent attorney will go a long way.

Defenses to California Penal Code 424 Charges

Getting convicted for misappropriation of public funds could get your career as a public official destroyed. Also, it could affect your chances of running for public office in the future. Cases involving public works get much attention from the public and media and could ruin your reputation. Due to the gravity of these charges, you will require guidance from a competent criminal defense attorney to fight these charges. With the help of your attorney, you can present the following defenses against Penal Code 424:

  1. Lack of Knowledge and Negligence

Showing that you acted with criminal negligence is one factor that a prosecutor needs to prove before securing your conviction. Sometimes you misappropriate the public funding without realizing that your actions were illegal. If there is no evidence that you attempted to hide your activities, you can argue that you did not know that your acts were unlawful.

Even when you did not know something was wrong, the law expects you to make an effort to find out. If reasonable efforts weren't made to discover your actions' legality, you could get tagged with negligence. However, ordinary negligence is not enough to get you convicted for misappropriation of public funds. A competent criminal defense attorney could help you dispute criminal negligence and beat the charges brought against you.

  1. The Amount you Took was Incidental and Minimal

California law is not clear on the meaning of minimal and incidental for this offense. For you to get convicted for misappropriation of public funds, the amount involved should be significant. The amount for which you can get convicted will depend on the circumstances under which the misappropriation occurred.

In some situations, a thousand dollars can get you convicted under Penal Code 424 of California, while on others, this is a small incidental amount. With guidance from a competent attorney, you can argue that the number of public funds, you can argue that the amount you misappropriated was minimal and incidental.

  1. False Accusations

Public officials are often put in positions of power and control over the public funds. These positions are top-rated, and many individuals want them. If you get convicted for a public funds misuse offense, you could be dismissed from office. Also, you will not be able to run for such positions in the future. Therefore, it is common for competitors to accuse you falsely for misappropriation of public funds. As a defense to your criminal case, you can argue that you did not misuse the funds, and you are being accused falsely.

  1. You ad a Reasonable Belief that You Were Doing the Right Thing

Misappropriation of public funds occurs when you use public funds entrusted to you for personal benefit. Sometimes you use the funds for a course that you believe was right, and you end up facing criminal charges. If you had a reasonable belief that you were using the money for the right purpose, you would have a chance to fight the criminal charges.

Expunging Your Criminal Record after a Conviction under Penal Code 424

After a conviction for the misappropriation of public funds, the criminal record is likely to follow you for a lifetime. Sometimes even when your case does not end in a conviction, the arrest, and criminal prosecution could significantly affect your life. Fortunately, you can wipe out the effects of the case through the expungement of your records. Expunging your records allows you to avoid the consequences that accompany the records.

When you are granted an expungement, your case will be reopened, and your guilty plea will be dismissed. However, not every individual qualifies for an expungement. You must meet the prison sentence and probation requirement. Also, there are details and circumstances of your case that get considered when deciding to award the relief. If you seek expungement after a legal battle for misappropriation of public funds, you will require guidance from a competent attorney.

If you are successful in expunging your records, you do not have to disclose your conviction when applying for a job. Most employers will check your criminal records, and you cannot be denied a job over an expunged record. You will be treated as if you did not get convicted in the first place. However, it is crucial to understand that an expunged record could be used against you if you are charged with a similar or related offense.

Before you start filing for dismissal, you should understand the details of your case and know whether you are eligible for the relief. Your criminal attorney could help you in the following steps:

  1. Obtain copies of your criminal record. All the necessary information required when filing for expungement are found in court papers issued at the time of conviction.
  2. Find out your eligibility for relief. If you are not facing any criminal charges currently, you could be eligible for expungement. Also, you must have completed the probation sentence and adhered to all the terms. However, you may meet the eligibility criteria, but the court denies you a relief.
  3. Understand the details of your conviction. When trying to get relief after a conviction under Penal Code 424, you need to understand your conviction's nature. This will include the verdict you made and the sentence that was imposed.
  4. Know the status of your probation. Successful completion of probation is an essential factor that is considered when you seek to expunge a record. Therefore, you need to understand whether or not you completed the sentence, or it was terminated.

Offenses Related to Misappropriation of Public Funds

Several offenses could get charged instead of or alongside Penal Code 424, including:

  • Grand Theft

Under California Penal Code 487, grand theft covers theft offenses involving a loss of $950 or more. Also, theft, where the stolen item was a vehicle of a firearm, is charged as grand theft. There are several forms of grand theft that you can be charged with

  1. Grand theft by larceny. This offense occurs when you physically carry off another person's tangible property. The prosecutor needs to prove that you acted intending to deprive the owner of permanent or temporary access to the item.
  2. Grand theft by pretense. You commit a crime of grand theft by pretense when you knowingly deceive another person into persuading them to let you their possession. Before you get convicted, it should be clear that the alleged victim relied on false information to make a decision. For this offense, false writing or token may be required to show the false information you provided.
  3. Theft by embezzlement. You can get charged with grand theft for embezzlement. This occurs when another person entrusts their property to you, and you use it frequently to benefit yourself. Even when you intended to take it back, you can face charges for grand theft.

If you are faced with criminal charges for misappropriation of public funds whose value exceeds $950, you may face additional charges for grand theft. In California, grand theft is a wobbler. A conviction for grand theft as a misdemeanor is punishable by a jail sentence of up to one year. When charged as a felony, you are likely to face felony probation and a prison sentence of up to three years. If you have a prior conviction, your penalties may get enhanced. The higher the value of the property you stole, the more severe the penalties you will face.

  • Embezzlement

Embezzlement is unlawfully taking property that has been entrusted to you and using it for your benefit. In California, the force is charged under Penal Code 503 and is commonly charged alongside public funds’ misappropriation. A prosecutor is required to prove the following factors to obtain a conviction:

  1. The owner of the property entrusted it to you. A conviction for embezzlement requires a prosecutor to prove that there was trust between you and the property owner. This can be shown if you are an employee or were tasked to take care of the property.
  2. You used the property fraudulently. For this offense, you commit fraud when you take advantage of another person and in a manner that causes loss. In an embezzlement criminal case, the prosecutor needs to show that you fraudulently used the property entrusted to you.
  3. You had the intention to deprive. You can only be found guilty of embezzlement if you acted with an intention as a property owner of its use. It is important to understand that you can get convicted for this offense even when your intent to deprive was not permanent. An intention to return the property after some time cannot be used as a defense for penal Code 503 of California.

Before you get convicted, the prosecutor needs to prove all the above elements without a reasonable doubt. With the help of a competent criminal defense attorney, you can try to dispute the evidence brought against you by the prosecutor. California Penal Code 503can get charged as a misdemeanor or a felony depending on the value of the property involved. 

If you get convicted for embezzlement in California, you are likely to face a one-year jail sentence for a misdemeanor and up to three years in prison. Also, getting convicted for embezzling funds could have negative consequences on your immigration status. Therefore, you should navigate the legal process with guidance from a competent defense attorney.

  • Bribery by or of Executive Officers or Public Employees

If you are a public official or employee, taking payoffs in your job could get you convicted for bribery. Before you get convicted for bribery, it should be clear that a decision was made corruptly due to the bribe. In California, you can get convicted for receiving or giving a bribe to a public official. Bribery of executive and ministerial offices occurs when you offer value to influence a decision that favors you.

If you are a public employee and receive a token from another person to make a fraudulent decision, you can get convicted. California Penal Code 67 is charged as a felony. If you get convicted for bribery of a public official, you will face the following legal penalties:

  1. Imprisonment. After a conviction for this offense, you may be subjected to a prison sentence of up to four years.
  2. Fines. The fines you pay after a conviction for bribery depends on the amount of money involved. If the bribe were not received, you would pay fines ranging from $2,000 to $10,000. For bribes that were received, the fines amount to $2,000 or the amount equal to the bribe.
  3. Forfeiture of office. When you are serving in public office, receiving or offering a bribe is a serious offense. If you get convicted, you may be required to forfeit the office.
  4. Disqualification from future office. Individuals who get convicted for bribery of a public official may not be allowed to run for office in the future. This will negatively affect your future career prospects.

If you face charges for misappropriation of public funds, you could also face Penal Code 67 charges. 

Find a Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me

Certain public officials are in positions of trust with government funds. When you wrongly use these funds to benefit yourself or another person, you could get charged with public funds misappropriation. In California, the offense is charged as a felony and attracts severe legal penalties.

Fortunately, there are legal defenses that you can employ to fight the charges. If you are charged under California Penal Code 424, you need competent legal guidance from the California Criminal Lawyer Group. If you are in San Jose, CA, contact us today at 408-622-0204 to discuss more details of your case.