top of page
  • Writer's pictureBlair Goss

What's the Embezzlement Statute of Limitations? | California Laws

Embezzlement is a serious crime that can lead to strong consequences for the defendant. Essentially, this is a white-collar crime in which someone intentionally steals money from their business or employer.

In other words, the person would be taking advantage of their position and stealing funds or assets for personal gain. Even a misdemeanor charge could lead to jail time.

It's important to note that all states have certain statutes that establish how much time a prosecutor has to accuse the defendant of this crime. In this case, the state would follow either criminal statutes or civil ones, which may be slightly different depending on the circumstances.

What is the embezzlement statute of limitations? California has a few rules that this page will cover. Goss Law can also share details on the sexual harassment statute of limitations California too.

What's the Statute of Limitations to File Criminal Charges in California?

What's the Statute of Limitations to File Criminal Charges in California?

Most of the time, the statute of limitations for white-collar crimes, including embezzlement, is four years.

According to the California Criminal Statute (CPC), this period starts when the crime is discovered or completed, whichever is later. This time limit could be confusing for some in certain scenarios.

If a person were to embezzle someone's property, and the victim noticed after 15 years, the statute of limitations would start after this period.

There's no "statute of limitations law" for embezzlement of public funds, however. This specific crime falls under the category of crimes with no deadline for lawsuits, which include first-degree murder, aggravated sexual assault of a child, and others.

In other words, the defendant could get sued at any time in these cases.

Another important factor to note is that civil statute limitations could exceed criminal statutes sometimes. In other words, a person could face a civil lawsuit even if the criminal statute expired. Here, the lawsuit would not be filed by a prosecutor but rather by someone related to the victim (e.g. the family).

Other than that, if the California statute of limitations expires, the prosecutor would probably not be able to take legal action against the defendant unless there's a special exception in place.

What Constitutes an Embezzlement Offense?

In this state, embezzlement involves a violation of the California Penal Code Section 503. There are many scenarios where the alleged offense can take place.

Here are some examples of embezzlement:

  • A cashier who steals money from the drawer.

  • A company owner who takes their clients' money for other personal purposes like paying credit cards or clearing their mortgage.

  • An employee who falsifies overtime records to get more money.

  • A charity volunteer who steals funds from an event.

  • A financial advisor who creates a Ponzi scheme.

Prosecutors can open a criminal case against the defendant to claim damages. According to California criminal law, they must establish the following elements if they want to prove their case:

  • Someone entrusted their property to the defendant.

  • The person did this action because they trusted the defendant.

  • The defendant used the asset or property for their benefit.

  • The defendant intended to deprive the property owner of using their assets.

However, prosecutors don't have to establish whether the property owner requested the defendant to return the assets.

Defendants can hire criminal defense attorneys if they believe they're being wrongly accused. Even if they're accused of a felony crime, they could get jail time and/or fines, so it's crucial to get legal help in these cases.

Different Elements of These Criminal Charges

Prosecutors and criminal defense attorneys will navigate several elements or "questions" when evaluating the circumstances of the crime. Here's an overview of all of them:

Intent to Deprive

Defendants can be found guilty in these criminal cases if the prosecutor proves they were planning to rob the owner of their assets. This applies even if the defendant only wanted to steal the asset temporarily.

Relationship of Trust

As mentioned, prosecutors must prove that there was a relationship of trust between the property owner and the defendant. They must have strong and clear proof of this, or they may not have a solid case.

Proving that the defendant is an employee and nothing more, for example, won't be enough to get them convicted. This is because these cases don't put the defendant in a direct relationship of trust with the property owner.

One instance where there's a clear relationship of trust is when the employee is the one responsible for handling the company's money.

Agent of the Owner

If the defendant is the property owner's agent, they could be found guilty of the crimes committed. In this case, an "agent" is someone to whom the plaintiff has given control over their property.


Finally, prosecutors must prove that the defendant behaved fraudulently. This applies when they:

  • Took advantage of another person

  • Caused any type of loss to someone by breaching duty, confidence, or trust

What Are the Potential Consequences of Embezzlement?

These are offenses punishable by jail/prison time and fines.

The penalties for embezzlement convictions depend on the case and how severe it is. While a defendant won't end up with life imprisonment for these felony crimes, the maximum prison term could be up to three/four years.

Many factors affect how much time someone gets in jail or how much they have to pay in fines. These include:

  • Amount embezzled

  • Jurisdiction

  • Aggravating factors

  • Legal defense for the defendant

  • Restitution

  • Defendant's criminal history

It's possible to separate embezzlement crimes into three main categories:

Petty Theft

Petty theft is one of the most common scenarios for embezzlement. It applies when the defendant was legally allowed to be on the property where the assets were stolen. Furthermore, the value of the stolen items must be under $1,000 for the crime to fall under this category.

In this case, the defendant could get up to six months in jail plus restitution obligations, which are capped at $1,000 most of the time.

If the embezzled amount is lower than $50, the defendant could reduce their penalty to $250 in fines by changing the charge to an infraction.

It's important to note that embezzlement cases involving dependents or senior citizens will involve additional penalties.

Grand Theft

Grand theft applies when the embezzlement crime's value exceeds $950. If the embezzled amount is higher than $65,000, the defendant will face an aggravated offense, which can give them an additional year of prison time.

Usually, grand theft convicts will face up to three years in prison and $10,000 in restitution fines.

Embezzlement of Public Money

This is a "special" case that will involve much more serious consequences for the defendant.

If convicted, the defendant would have to repay the stolen property and spend up to four years in state prison. Additionally, this person would become permanently ineligible for local/state government positions.

Is It Possible to Fight Embezzlement Charges?

The defendant can fight their charges with the help of a Sacramento white collar crime attorney. Even embezzlement allegations could affect the person's reputation and career, so it's crucial to get as much assistance as possible.

Lawyers can use many strategies to fight embezzlement charges, including:

  • Proving there was no fraudulent use of the funds or assets

  • Claiming there was no intent to deprive the owner of their assets

  • Proving the defendant had a good faith belief that they had entitlement to the funds

  • Establishing there's not enough evidence to convict the defendant

  • Proving there was no fiduciary relationship between the plaintiff and the defendant

  • Arguing the defendant acted against their better judgment because they believed they would get in trouble if they didn't commit the crime (Duress)

Finally, if the attorney proves the statute of limitations for the crime expired, the prosecutor may not be able to follow through with their claim.

Can Embezzlement Charges Be Expunged?

Can Embezzlement Charges Be Expunged?

Yes, some embezzlement convictions can be expunged according to CPC Section 1023.4. If the defendant is successful with their request, their record will be sealed/deleted from the general public. However, these files will still be kept by law enforcement agency databases.

Those who didn't serve prison time will be able to expunge their record. If they did, they may have to look for other post-conviction relief programs.

The requirements for expunging a record include:

  • Completing probation requirements

  • Not having any pending criminal charges

  • Not committing another crime

When Should People Call a Criminal Defense Attorney?

Anyone who feels they'll be accused of embezzlement should call an attorney as soon as possible. Most of the time, the property owner won't sue right away. Instead, they'll contact the defendant and point out discrepancies or problems with their assets.

As most people already know, anything someone says will be used against them. A defense attorney will likely advise the defendant to not say anything until they get a legal assessment.

Getting advice sooner gives the people involved in the case all the tools necessary to navigate their claims correctly. Goss Law can also provide advice on the drug possession statute of limitations California.

Final Thoughts

Fighting a criminal case like embezzlement isn't easy, especially without legal help. Those who believe they were wrongly accused deserve a chance to fight back and get justice.

At Goss Law, there's a team ready to guide people with their embezzlement cases and a much wider range of claims. Embezzlement is a serious crime, so it's important to get a proper legal assessment to determine next steps.


bottom of page