If you are a government official in charge of public money, the odds are that you have access to the funds. Using public funds in the wrong way or for personal gain could attract criminal charges under CA PC 424. California law defines the misappropriation of public funds as an act of misusing funds entrusted to you for management.
Misuse of public funds occurs when you use these funds for your benefit, create fake accounts to transfer the money or loan it out illegally. Charges under PC 424 attract severe penalties, hefty fines, and could affect your career. Therefore, seeking legal guidance from a competent lawyer is crucial. At Los Angeles Criminal Lawyer, we will review your case and help build a strong defense.
Legal Definition of Misappropriation of Public Funds
California PC 424 is the statute that defines misappropriation of public funds. Misuse of the public funds is similar to embezzlement only that PC 424 involves funds meant for public use. Several ways in which you can misuse public funds include:
Using Public Monies for Personal Benefit
If you use public monies to benefit yourself or another person, you face charges. The elements that the prosecutor must prove in court include:
- You are an official of the local or state government. You can only face charges under PC 424 if you serve in a government office. Therefore, the prosecutor must prove that you were employed by the government when you committed the crime.
- You uses government funds to your benefit or another person’s.
- You appropriated the funds without consent from relevant authorities. Using public funds becomes a crime when you did not have consent from your employer. Therefore, this element should be transparent when establishing your liability to the offense.
- Your actions were motivated by criminal negligence. Criminal negligence, in this case, is acting with reckless and gross disregard for the law. Before you are convicted for using public resources for personal gain, the prosecutor must show that your actions were criminally negligent.
Illegal Loaning of Public Money
Loaning public money to unauthorized people is a violation of PC 424. The prosecutor needs to establish the following factors of your case before you are convicted:
- You were entrusted with handling and safekeeping of government funds. You can only misuse public funds if you have control and authority over them.
- You weren’t permitted to loan the money or use it under the circumstances in which you did.
- You offered loans using government money.
- You knew that your conduct was illegal but still went ahead to commit the crime.
Failure to Transfer or Pay Relevant Funds
Most people assume that the misappropriating public funds only involves using it. However, a public official who fails to transfer funds as required could face criminal charges. You will be guilty only if you knew that the law required you to facilitate the transfers.
Altering or Creating Fake Accounts
Altering, creating fake accounts, or destroying existing ones to defraud is a way of misappropriating public funds. You don’t necessarily need to benefit from the money for you to face criminal charges. Destroying or altering accounts meant for government money attracts PC 424 charges.
Penalties for Misappropriation of Public Money
Misappropriation of public finances is a serious felony offense in California. Potential penalties upon your conviction are:
- A prison sentence. A conviction for misappropriating public money attracts a sentence ranging from 2 to 4 years.
- Probation is a supervisory sentence to a prison sentence that you can receive. Felony probation lasts up to five years, and there are specific terms you need to obey. Some of the standard terms of formal probation include paying all court fines and restitution. Also, you could be required to report your progress to the court regularly.
- Court fines amounting to $10,000 accompany a conviction for misappropriating public finances.
Besides the legal penalties, facing a conviction for this crime affects your chances of holding public office in the future. Legal guidance is crucial when facing criminal charges for allegedly misappropriating public money.
Defenses against PC 424
Facing a conviction for misappropriating public funds has serious legal consequences. Therefore, hiring a competent legal guidance is vital. Facing an arrest and trial does not always result in a conviction. You may use the following legal defenses to cast doubts in the prosecutor’s evidence:
1. The Misappropriation of Public Monies was Incidental and Minimal
One of the exceptions under PC 424 is minimal and incidental amounts. You cannot be guilty under this statute if the amount of money you misappropriated was minimal. If your criminal attorney can help establish the insignificance of the amount you misappropriated, your penalties could be reduced, or charges dismissed.
2. You acted out of Necessity
Public money is often stored in secure accounts, and access to the funds is limited to a few individuals. When you face criminal charges for misappropriation of these funds, you could argue that you acted in an attempt to prevent further misuse of the money. For example, a government official would fund a particular project to avoid another person’s potential embezzlement. However, this argument could be more effective if you made attempts to report to the authorities, but they did not respond or had no opportunity to report the matter.
3. You Acted Under Duress
A person acts under duress when they are threatened to act or do something to protect their wellbeing. When you are an officer in the government, you mostly have other people with a higher rank than you. An individual in authority or law enforcement could coerce you to use public funds for another course without your consent. California courts may pardon your case if you can prove that you acted under a reasonable belief that you were in danger. When using this defense, you may be required to produce proof of the threats.
4. You used the Alleged Funds for the Right Course
California PC 424 criminal charges arise when officials of the state or local government use money intended for public use to pursue personal benefit. A knowledgeable attorney could help you argue that you used the finances as instructed by your superiors, with receipts or bank statements indicating how you used the funds. You could also assert that you lacked knowledge of the illegal nature of your actions. Your evidence, while presenting this argument, could help you negate the prosecutor’s allegations.
5. You did not Act Wilfully
When proving your liability under PC 424, a prosecutor should prove that you acted with criminal negligence. This means that you willfully acted while committing the offense. If you can prove that your actions were not willful or motivated by negligence, you can evade the harsh penalties.
Crimes Related to Misappropriation of Public Funds
Misappropriation of public funds is a white-collar crime that attracts serious punitive measures after a conviction. Regardless of their motive, the following are some crimes similar to the misappropriation of public resources.
Bribery by Public Officials
California law criminalizes any attempt of a public official or ministerial officer to ask or take a bribe. Most public officials who misappropriate public resources do so by accepting bribes to allocate the money to undeserving individuals. Therefore, you can be faced with charges for bribery by a public official together with misuse of government resources.
When you face Penal Code 68 charges, the prosecutor needs to establish these elements of the crime:
- You were an executive officer or a public officer of the state of California. Before a prosecutor establishes that you are guilty under section 68 of the California Penal Code, they should prove that you were a public servant who was entrusted with the power over public resources.
- You requested, accepted, or agreed to be bribed. When you are charged under PC 68, the prosecutor must show you asked for a bribe or received one without a reasonable doubt. For this offense, a bribe is considered as something tangible or a promise of future value advantage.
- When you accepted the bribe, it was meant to influence your decision or opinion. You will only face a conviction for bribery by a government official if the bribe you requested or received would influence your official actions.
- After receiving the bribe, you acted corruptly, and your duty as a public official was influenced unlawfully.
Regardless of your criminal case circumstances, bribery of a public official is charged as a felony. A conviction for the offense attracts a four years prison sentence and fines of up to $10,000. If you are convicted under PC 68, the judge cannot offer you probation as an alternative to prison. A non-citizen who faces a conviction for a white-collar crime in California may face severe immigration consequences including, deportation and be rendered inadmissible. Therefore, seeking legal guidance and representation is crucial when you face these charges.
Should you face charges for bribery by a public official, you are entitled to raise a defense to your case. Some common defenses you can present are:
- Dispute the fact that you are a public employee. You cannot face charges Under Pc 68 if you don’t serve in a public office. It is a defense to argue that you were not working for the government when you accepted the bribe.
- No representation of unlawful influence. A public employee can only be found guilty of seeking or accepting a bribe if the token influences their actions. You can defend your case by arguing that the bribe was not aimed at influencing your official decision.
- Claim entrapment. Entrapment occurs when a person of higher authority lures you into committing an offense. This defense could be applicable if the charges arise after a police operation.
Forgery involves the falsification of seals, signatures, or documents intending to commit fraud. On the other hand, misuse of public finances involves allocating the government fund fraudulently to gain personal gain. Therefore, when you are facing CPC charges, you may face forgery charges as an additional charge. There are several ways in which forgery could occur in California, including:
- Signing another person’s name. Before you face a forgery conviction for signing someone else’s name or you must have signed another person’s legal document without their permission. Also, you must have known that you lacked consent to act in the way you did.
- Falsifying a legal document. Forgery can only occur with legal documents. Therefore, the prosecutor must prove that you changed the contents or presented a false document as the original. Even when you did not benefit financially from your actions, you can still be convicted for forgery.
- Recreating a seal or another person’s handwriting. You commit a crime under CPC 470 when you sign another person’s handwriting or fake a seal to receive financial gain.
In California, helping another person commit forgery is a criminal offense. If the prosecutor can prove that you knew another person’s plan to commit forgery, and you assisted or encouraged their course, you could face charges under this statute. Your intent to commit fraud from your actions should always be clear when you face forgery charges.
PC 470 is a California wobbler offense. The court determines your charges’ nature, depending on your criminal record and other factors of your case. If you did not commit identity theft and the amount you intended to defraud is less than $ 950, you will face a misdemeanor charge. After a conviction, the penalties you face include a sentence of one year and fines not exceeding $1,000.
When you are convicted of a felony, you will face a three-year prison sentence and court fines amounting to $10,000. Defendants found guilty of forgery be offered a diversion where they bypass the penalties for meeting specific requirements. Some of the conditions you need to meet before obtaining a diversion will include restitution payments to the alleged victim. You may also be required to attend an intervention class that lasts the whole day. Diversion programs are not available to everyone. Therefore, legal guidance is critical.
Auto Insurance Fraud
Insurance fraud is a crime that involves attempts to defraud an insurance company. Under Penal Code 548, fraud could occur when an individual destroys or tries to dispose of a property to collect insurance compensation. For you to face a conviction under this statute, the prosecutor must establish the following things:
- You intentionally hid, destroyed, or abandoned a vehicle that was insured against damage or loss.
- You acted intending to commit fraud or prejudice against your insurance providers. An intention to defraud means that you wanted to deceive the insurance company and cause them loss. Even if you did not receive payment and the insurance company never suffered a loss, you can still be convicted for the offense. Also, trying to collect benefits for an expired insurance policy could attract criminal charges.
Violating CPC 548 is a felony. Should you face a conviction for the crime, you risk facing imprisonment for five years. You may also be required to pay court fines amounting to$50,000. With legal guidance from your criminal lawyer, you can negotiate with the judge to offer you probation instead of prison sentences.
If you face accusations under this statute, you can challenge the accusations by arguing that you lacked the intent to commit fraud. Also, jealousy, anger, and revenge could compel a person to accuse you if committing insurance fraud falsely. Therefore, it is a valid defense to claim that you did not commit the alleged offense. Police officers should have probable cause to arrest and detain you for a crime. If you were arrested for allegedly violating California Penal Code 548, any evidence obtained illegally may be excluded in your case.
Find a Competent Criminal Lawyer Near Me
Most government officials entrusted with managing public resources do not use it for personal benefit. When you misappropriate government resources, you could be arrested and charged under PC 424. Misappropriation of public funds has grave consequences. You could be sentenced, and compromise the likelihood of working in a public office.
The prosecution process is long and frustrating. Therefore, if you, your spouse, or a loved one is facing criminal charges, you want to hire a competent criminal defense lawyer. At Los Angeles Criminal Lawyer, we strive to help you build a solid defense and guide you to the best outcome. If you are in Los Angeles, CA, Contact us today at 310-502-1314 and allow us to take charge of your case.