Although misappropriation of public funds does not involve violence, the crime can severely affect government projects and municipal areas together with those depending on them. Because of the wide-reaching effect, the prosecution team takes the crime seriously. As a result, a conviction could damage both your professional and personal life, not forgetting exorbitant fines, incarceration, and stigma.
If you have been arrested for the crime in question, you should speak with a skilled lawyer. Our legal team at Los Angeles Criminal Lawyer can take a proactive legal defense strategy that starts with your allegation's review and our investigation to understand the case facts and develop an all-inclusive legal strategy. Additionally, we understand the role of media and publicity and, if necessary, can integrate public relations planning with your case management practices.
Misappropriation of Public Funds
Misappropriation of Public Funds per PC 424 makes it an offense for a trustee of public money or public officer to misuse the funds for inappropriate use. The section code lists numerous behaviors in which an individual could commit the offense in question, including:
Appropriating Public Money Without Authority
You could misuse public money when you appropriate money to your use or that of the other without the law's authority.
Here are the facts under PC 424 that the prosecution team should establish beyond any reasonable doubt:
- You were either a local government agency or state officer or entrusted with safekeeping, the receipt, disbursement, or transfer of public money.
- You appropriated public money to your use or that of another, without the law's authority, and
- You were either aware that California law prohibits the appropriation or criminally negligent in not learning whether you were legally allowed to make the appropriation.
The section below is an overview of the above elements. It will help you comprehend the meaning.
An individual Charged with Public Funds or a Public Officer
A public officer could be any employee or official in a local government entity or state. It can be:
- An elected person
- An appointed individual
- A government lawyer or accountant
Additionally, you could be prosecuted with Penal Code 424 if you're trusted with public money. In other words, if you're entrusted with duties or obligations associated with and have control over the safekeeping, disbursement, or receipt of public funds.
Appropriated Public Money
The legal phrase implies using the money to meet your needs or somebody else's like a relative or friend.
Criminal Negligence or Knowledge
Being aware that the conduct was unlawful does not mean that the accused person knew every detail of the California law. Instead, it means knowing that non-criminal laws banned their behavior.
Criminal negligence goes beyond ordinary negligence. Criminal negligence should be reckless, gross, or aggravated. On the contrary, ordinary negligence is failing to exercise reasonable/standard care.
Profiting From, Misusing, or Loaning Public Money Without Authority
Another way of misappropriating public funds is making unlawful loans.
The defendant breaks this section if all the statements below are correct:
- They were a local government agency or state officer, or an individual trusted with the safekeeping, transfer, disbursement, or receipt of public fund
- Non Penal laws prohibited or authorized you from using public funds under specific circumstances or loaning public money
- The accused loaned public funds, made profits off of the funds or used the funds for purposes not approved by law
- The defendant was either aware that what they were engaging in was unlawful or was criminally negligent in failing to learn whether the conduct was lawful or not.
Fraudulently Destroying or Altering Accounts or False Accounts
You can also violate PC 424 when you do one of the below:
- Alter, destroy, conceal, obliterate, or falsify any account of or associated with public funds intending to defraud
- Deliberately keep materially false accounts, or make materially false entries or materially fake erasure in accounts of or linked to public funds
In layman's language, you could break PC 424 law even when you do not personally take funds as long as you knowingly tampered with the account for public money or destroy or alter the account intending to defraud.
Refusing to Transfer or Pay Public Money
You could be found guilty of PC 424 if you:
- Deliberately omit or refuse to pay the money you received to another officer or individual authorized by the law, or
- Intentionally omit or refuse to transfer, allocate, or pay public funds you control after receiving a draft, warrant, or order by the proficient authority when required by the law to act so.
Like other types of PC 424, you can only be found guilty if you exhibited either criminal negligence in not learning whether your conduct is legal or not or knew you should pay the funds.
Exemption for Minimal and Incidental Amounts
You cannot be convicted of PC 424 for events involving insignificant sums of money.
Penalties, Sentencing, and Consequences of PC 424
PC 424 is a California felony. A conviction carries the following penalties:
- Formal (felony) probation
- Two, three, or four years in prison
- Maximum fines of ten thousand dollars
A conviction is more severe for state workers than an ordinary criminal conviction since the defendant won't be permitted to hold a public office.
How to Fight PC 424 Charges
Generally, Penal Code 424 charges attract the attention of the media and public. It is not only humiliating but can also ruin your career and life.
Fortunately, a knowledgeable defense attorney can fight the charges with common legal strategies, including:
The Amounts in Question are Incidental and Minimal
Although the law does not define incidental and minimal, PC 424 only applies to amounts of money that are more than minimal and incidental.
Whether any amount is incidental and minimal might depend on the case circumstances. What could be significant in one case might be considered minimal in another.
You Were Not Criminal Negligent or Aware
It is a legal defense of the mistake of law.
Suppose the defendant had an authentic but misguided belief that their conduct was legal. In that case, they might not be sentenced for misappropriation of funds, even when it was negligent of them to have the belief, provided the involved negligence was not so gross as to be criminal.
Generally, it is difficult for the prosecution team to prove beyond any reasonable doubt that the defendant knew that their behavior was illegal or was too negligent to be deemed criminally negligent.
Your Conduct was Due to a Necessity
Generally, public money is stored in safe accounts accessed by only a few. When charged with PC 424, the accused person could claim that they were trying to stop more misappropriation of the funds. For instance, a person can fund a project to prevent somebody else's potential embezzlement. Nevertheless, this legal strategy might be more practical if:
- the defendant didn't have opportunities to report this issue, or
- reported to the police, but they didn't respond.
The Defendant Used the Money for Its Intended Purpose
A PC 424 charge arises when a local government or state employee uses funds aimed for public use for personal purposes. A seasoned lawyer could argue that the public official used the money as instructed and ordered by their superiors, proved with bank statements and receipts.
Additionally, the defendant could assert that they were not aware of the illegal nature of their behavior.
The Accused Person Acted Under Duress
An individual acts under duress when he/she is threatened to engage in something to safeguard his/her wellbeing. When you're a government official, you might have superiors. These persons might pressure you to use public money for another reason without permission.
The judge can pardon the case provided you can establish that you behaved under the belief that your life was in danger. For this legal defense to be viable, you should present evidence of your threats.
Discussed below are crimes that could be charged alongside with or instead of PC 424:
Embezzlement (PC 503)
Embezzlement happens when you fraudulently appropriated property belonging to another person, and the owner had trusted it to you.
Notable variations between PC 424 and embezzlement include:
- Embezzlement applies to any asset, including property and money that doesn't belong to the government.
- A person can only be sentenced for PC 503 if they used or converted the embezzled asset for their gain and planned to deprive the owner of the asset's use.
Embezzlement is charged as a misdemeanor provided the value of the involved property does not exceed nine hundred and fifty dollars. It is a wobbler (could be prosecuted either as a California felony or misdemeanor) if the property's value is more than $950. Nonetheless, if the embezzled property belongs to the government, the crime is a felony.
Bribery of Public Officials (PC 67 and 68)
Bribery of public officials is commonly prosecuted against government workers. However, it could also be prosecuted against a person who isn't a government employee but attempting to bribe a government employee.
Under these laws, it is illegal to offer something valuable or money to a civil servant or for the civil servant to solicit something valuable or money with a corrupt goal.
If you bribe a government official, you might face a felony or a misdemeanor depending primarily on the case circumstances and the worth of the property or money involved. Government officials who accept or solicit bribes face felony penalties.
Forgery (PC 470)
Forgery happens when you fraudulently alter specific documents or falsify a signature.
PC 470 makes it an offense for you to:
- Sign another person's name
- Forge or counterfeit another person's handwriting or seal
- Falsify, corrupt, or alter records of any legal will, judgment, or codicil
- Counterfeit, forge, alter, or falsely make documents such as money orders, bonds, or checks
Forgery is a California wobbler. A misdemeanor is punishable by a maximum of one year in jail. On the other hand, a felony carries three (3) years in jail. The judge could award either felony probation or summary (misdemeanor) probation in place of serving time.
How You Can Keep Your Employment as a Convicted State Employee Not Allowed to Hold a Public Office
As a civil service employee, you have a lawfully protected interest in employment. You have a right to procedural protections concerning disciplinary actions, such as the entitlement to receive notice of your penalty.
The initial phase in the disciplinary process is the pre-termination skelly hearing. It is an opportunity to plead the case and work on something verbally.
The following stage is the SPB Appeals Division. You, together with your experienced criminal defense lawyer, will have a hearing with witnesses and evidence. Your hearing will occur before an administrative law judge (ALJ) or a hearing officer.
Following the Board's decision, you could bring a petition for rehearing. Additionally, you could file your writ of administrative mandamus with the trial court.
A seasoned defense lawyer can assist.
What is the Statute of Limitations for PC 424?
For many criminal cases, the prosecutor has limited time to bring charges against the accused. This timeframe is called the statute of limitations. Statute of limitations is tailored to protect the defendant from defending themselves against allegation where:
- the proof could be stale,
- the defendant's memory could be limited, and
- witnesses are no longer available.
Misappropriation of public funds is one of the crimes that doesn't have a statute of limitations.
Should You Take a Plea Bargain?
A plea bargain is an agreement between the defendant and the prosecutor where the defendant pleas guilty or no contest. In return, the prosecution recommends a sentence or penalty acceptable to the defendant and their defense. For instance, the prosecutor might drop the case or reduce the charges to a less severe charge.
When you plead no contest, you allow the judge to determine your penalties, although you admit that you did not violate the law. A "not guilty" plea means you admit to being innocent, while a "guilty" plea means you admit to committing the offense. The judge will summon and inquire whether you understand the consequences of your plea.
You will be sentenced if you take a "guilty" plea. However, the sentencing might be more lenient. Please note that your request could be treated as evidence against you. Also, your confession will not prevent your case from proceeding to trial.
Criminal cases could take weeks, months, or even years to close. Additionally, the results of criminal trials aren't always predictable.
A guilty plea takes a couple of minutes to be arranged. Pleading Nolo Contendere, on the other hand, offers all parties some level of control over the outcome that everyone will be satisfied with.
Please note that plea bargains don't come easily. They are earned by dedication, diligence, experience, hard work, and investigation. Your defense attorney must also learn both the weakness in the prosecutor's case and the strengths in your case.
Signs that You Might be Under Criminal Investigations for Misappropriation of Funds
While it might seem obvious, police officers use many techniques to investigate crimes where some are more subtle than others. Consequently, you should be able to tell whether you are under investigation and speak with your defense attorney immediately.
If you or your loved one notice a police vehicle, whether marked or not, parked near your home or workplace, that could indicate you are under investigation.
Another sign could be people approaching you or your family, friends, or colleagues to ask questions. These people asking questions could be informants or police officers. Informants work for the law enforcement agency and aren't dressed in police uniforms. Generally, they ask unusual questions about the crime.
Other indications could involve unusual friend requests on your social media platforms, text messages, and phone calls. Anything that could result in you being suspicious, like a change in your routine or that of a loved one, could be something worth noting.
If you aren't sure whether you are under investigation but are concerned about its possibility, you should retain an attorney immediately. Your defense attorney will:
- Advise you of the possibility of potential criminal charges
- Tell you of the possible case outcome
- Advise you on the steps you should take in the criminal case
Your Constitutional Rights During a Case Investigation
Since being investigated could be confusing, you might not know what to do and tell the police. It's essential to understand that you've rights, including:
4th Amendments Rights
The fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution protects you from unreasonable searches and seizures. Therefore, the police should acquire a search warrant from a judge before searching your person, car, workplace, or home. The court will issue the warrant provided the police establish probable cause to find PC 424 evidence on you or areas that they will search.
Also, the police should stick to their warrant's scope.
Probably, you have previously heard the phrase "pleading the fifth." It means no person should be forced to bear witness against themselves or offer evidence in their case under the 5th Amendment. Should law enforcers ask you whether you violated PC 424 law and the answer might incriminate you, you could choose to remain silent. It would help if you didn't answer any questions about your crime until you speak with your legal counsel.
Find a Skilled White Collar Crimes Defense Attorney Near Me
Are you facing PC 424 charges? You should seek legal help immediately since your employment, reputation, social standing, and livelihood are at stake. Retaining a tenacious defense lawyer ensures you are adequately prepared for this devastating time. For many years, Los Angeles Criminal Lawyer has represented executives, business owners, low-level employees, and public officials. We can analyze all financial records, psychological assessments, and witnesses to ensure you don't pay the price of another person's wrongdoing. We can also work with other professionals based on your case evidence to build your legal defense and determine possible case outcomes.
Call us now at 310-502-1314 to schedule your free case review with a proficient defense attorney.