You might think that you are not at high risk of getting charged with embezzlement if you do not work at a bank or an investment company, but it is surprisingly easy to find yourself facing criminal charges of embezzlement. If that happens, you need to know what defenses you could raise to try to avoid a conviction.
Your first call should be to a Washington white-collar crimes attorney who can build a strong case for you based on your facts. Your lawyer will talk to you about the possible defenses for embezzlement charges that might be applicable in your situation.
An Overview of Embezzlement
At its core, embezzlement is just a type of theft. Borrowing from the petty cash box because you forgot your wallet and needed to pay for lunch could get charged as embezzlement. Helping yourself to copy paper, pens, and other office supplies could be embezzlement.
You do not have to take items from your employer to get charged with theft. A person who works in home health care might take an item from a client’s home. Someone running a crowd-funding campaign to help pay for someone else’s medical bills might use some of the funds to pay their own personal expenses.
If you have lawful access to someone else’s assets or money, taking or using that asset fraudulently for your own purposes without permission is embezzlement that could get charged as theft. Embezzlement falls under the theft laws in Washington. Embezzlement does not have its own separate laws. Theft can be a misdemeanor or a felony in our state.
Defenses to the Theft Charges
Defenses to embezzlement generally focus on intent, deception, and lack of authorization. Theft is a crime of intent. In other words, you must have intended to take something that you knew was not yours.
Let’s say that you were waiting at a bus stop. When the bus arrived, you picked up a backpack that you thought was yours, and boarded the bus. The real owner of the backpack called the police, who arrested you for theft. The two backpacks looked surprisingly similar. You could defend against the charges by saying that you picked up the wrong backpack by accident. You did not intend to steal the other person’s backpack.
Also, you did not use deception to gain possession of the other person’s backpack. For example, you did not intentionally switch the locations of the backpacks to try to deceive the other person.
Authorization is another common defense to embezzlement charges. One person at a company might make improper claims of theft because they do not know all the facts. Someone in middle management might observe you walk out of the office carrying one of the office laptops and accuse you of embezzling company property. They did not know that your direct supervisor authorized you to take the laptop home for the weekend to finish a report.
The middle manager might say that you wrongfully took company property or had unauthorized control or possession of the laptop. In a situation like this, the truth is your best defense against embezzlement charges because your actions did not constitute embezzlement or theft.
Criminal charges of any kind of theft could blemish your good name and reputation. With so much at stake, you will want to talk to a Washington criminal defense attorney at once. Contact our office today for help with your case.
DISCLAIMER: This post is intended to share my perspective, insights, and some general information on various aspects of criminal cases. It is not legal advice and is not intended to substitute for legal advice. You should consult an attorney to obtain legal advice for your individual situation and case.