When entrusted with public funds as a trustee or public official, you must only use the funds for the intended purpose. Using public funds for purposes other than intended can result in serious criminal charges for misappropriation of public funds. This is a serious felony that could result in lengthy prison time and a hefty court fine. A felony conviction also results in life-changing consequences, including job loss and challenges in finding suitable employment. But you can fight your charges for a fair resolution of your case.

Finding a skilled criminal attorney is advisable if you face charges for misappropriating public funds in Monterey. Our criminal attorneys at Monterey Criminal Attorney have extensive skills and experience handling all kinds of white-collar crimes. We could use our best defense strategies to compel the judge to dismiss or reduce your charges for a fair outcome.

The Legal Definition of Misappropriation of Public Funds

The law against misappropriating public resources is under PC 424. According to this law, it is a crime for anyone entrusted with public funds to misuse or divert them for purposes other than the intended funds. Typically, this law applies to public officials and anyone charged with managing public funds. People in government offices have control and power over particular public resources. Sadly, a significant number of them do not use these public resources for the intended purpose. Sometimes, they use public funds for personal benefits or the benefit of others who are not the intended target.

Misappropriating public money is a grave crime. It is closely related to embezzlement, the law against misuse of other people’s money or property. The main difference between these two offenses is that misappropriating public funds only involves misuse of public funds. It also mainly applies to government officials, including state and local officers who misuse public funds. You do not have to be a permanent employee to commit this offense. You can still misappropriate public funds while on temporary or contract employment.

But facing charges under this law does not automatically make you guilty of misappropriating public money. You could be facing false accusations, or your accuser could be mistaken. You are legally allowed to fight your charges during the trial and with the help of a criminal defense attorney for a fair resolution of your case. The prosecutor bears the burden of proof in criminal cases. Thus, they must prove all elements of the offense beyond a reasonable doubt for the judge to deliver a guilty verdict. Here are the elements of this offense under PC 424:

  • You are a government officer in a district, town, or city.
  • You are responsible for receiving, transferring, safekeeping, or disbursing public resources or funds.
  • You used your position to misappropriate or misuse the public funds or resources under your care, meaning that you used the money for purposes other than the intended purpose.
  • You knew or must have reasonably known that it is a crime to do that
  • Your actions were criminally negligent because you were responsible for making the right decision at the time, but you failed.

Note: The district attorney must demonstrate criminal negligence when demonstrating your case. Your actions are criminally negligent when you know what is expected of you, but you ignore that and do something else for personal benefit or the benefit of another person. This element is crucial, especially in cases where some people are likely to suffer significantly because of your negligence. For example, when you know that funds are required to feed or provide shelter for specific people and misappropriate them, you act with criminal negligence. Typically, criminal negligence carries more weight than ordinary negligence.

Misappropriating public funds does not refer to a single act; it is a general term referring to all acts that result in the misuse or misappropriation of public funds. Here are some common ways government officials violate this law:

Loaning Public Funds to Yourself or Someone Else

Remember that any act that results in utilizing public funds for purposes other than the intended purpose qualifies as misappropriation of public funds. If you lend yourself public funds or give some or the entire amount to another person to earn interest, you violate this law, even if you or the other person plan to return the money. Even though loaning another person public funds is not the same as using the money for personal gain, it still violates the provisions of this law. The law requires you to use public funds only for the intended purpose. That purpose usually includes something other than using or lending it to another person.

If you are arrested for loaning yourself or someone else public funds, the district attorney must demonstrate the following offense elements for the jury to deliver a guilty verdict:

  • You are a government officer and are in charge of particular public funds
  • You loaned yourself part of that money, or the entire fund, or to someone else
  • You knew or must have reasonably known that doing so was a criminal act, but you ignored that fact

Appropriating Public Money Without Authorization

Suppose you are a government official charged with the safekeeping, receipt, disbursement, or use of public funds and work under a particular authority. In that case, you must seek authorization before appropriating the public funds under your charge. Appropriating public funds without authorization can result in serious criminal charges.

Under this subsection, appropriate public funds means using the money for an intended or unintended purpose without seeking the approval of the person in charge. For example, you used some of the funds under your care to pay for a personal matter, intending to pay it back soon. In addition to all the other elements above, the district attorney must demonstrate your knowledge that your actions are criminal, but you acted the way you did anyway.

Creating Fake Accounts/Criminally Altering Existing Public Accounts

PC 424 prohibits a government official from creating fake accounts or altering public accounts for personal benefit. For example, you could create additional accounts to loot public funds or modify existing accounts for the same purpose. The district attorney must demonstrate that your actions have fraudulent intent for the jury to deliver a guilty verdict.

Failing to Transfer or Appropriate Public Funds

As a government official charged with the disbursement or transfer of public funds, you must do so when required or authorized for the funds to fulfill their intended purpose. Failing to do so can result in serious felony charges under this law. The district attorney must demonstrate the following:

  • One of your duties as a government official is to transfer or disburse public funds
  • You received authorization to discharge that duty
  • You refused to comply with the authorization
  • Your actions were criminally negligent.

Likely Penalties If Convicted Under PC 424

Misappropriation of public funds is a felony offense. However, your penalties upon conviction will depend upon several factors, including your criminal history and case details. Here are the standard penalties for conviction under this statute:

  • From two to four years in state prison
  • Felony probation
  • A court fine of up to $10,000.

Instead of a prison sentence, the judge can send you on felony probation. But you could be required to serve part of your sentence in a county jail. Probation is usually a more favorable sentence since you will return home to your family, business, school, and the life you are accustomed to. However, you will be under the close supervision of the probation department. The department will assign you an officer to monitor your progress and report to the court.

You will also receive probation terms and conditions to abide by throughout your sentence. For example, you could be required to pay restitution, participate in community work, and undergo drug or alcohol treatment. The judge will also order you not to commit a crime or be arrested for any offense while on probation. If you violate your probation, the judge can revoke it and send you to prison for the required period.

You must serve your probation to the end, meeting your probation officer periodically to discuss your progress. Once the probation period ends, you will no longer be liable for that offense and can start life afresh.

Enhanced Sentence

The judge can give you an enhanced sentence after conviction if you have a prior felony conviction. First offenders receive their sentence under the law following a conviction. But you are subject to a harsher penalty if you have a serious criminal record. Additionally, you will lose your job as a government official and the possibility of ever holding a public office. That is why you must work closely with a skilled criminal attorney for the best strategies to help you obtain the best possible outcome for your case.

Other Consequences of a Conviction under PC 424

A conviction for misappropriating public funds results in other life-changing consequences you should be aware of. It leaves you with a damaging criminal record that will continue to impact your life in different ways years after serving your sentence. For example, you will lose your job after a conviction without possibly being rehired after serving your sentence. You lose the opportunity to ever hold a public office.

Additionally, you could face challenges finding suitable employment after serving time behind bars. Employers are usually skeptical when hiring and will hesitate to hire you when you have a criminal record. Landlords, too, conduct background checks to determine a tenant’s suitability to live in a particular neighborhood. Thus, you could face difficulties finding a suitable place to live. A criminal conviction also affects your social life. You could lose friends, your connection with your colleagues, and the support of your family.

For those reasons, you should put up a solid defense against your chances of obtaining the best outcome for your case.

How To Defend Yourself Against Charges Under PC 424

The law allows you to defend against your charges for a fair trial. You can engage the help of a competent criminal defense attorney to fight your charges and avoid the harsh penalties that result from a conviction. Fortunately, criminal attorneys can use one or more defense strategies to weaken the prosecution's case or fight charges to compel the court to dismiss charges. You will not worry about the conviction and its disabling consequences when that happens. Here are examples of strategies your attorney can use to defend your charges during your trial:

You Did Not Know Your Actions Were Illegal

A guilty verdict under PC 424 requires you to have known that your actions were criminal. That is evident if you tried to hide your actions in any way. Also, you will have this knowledge if someone explains what you can and cannot do with public funds after or before hiring you for the job.

For example, if you loaned yourself or someone else money without expecting to gain anything from it and did not attempt to hide your actions, you can use this defense to compel the judge to dismiss your charges. Hiding your actions indicates that you know they are wrong and would not want anyone to learn about them. If you openly borrow some money from the public coffer, intending to return it after a day or two, you could convince the jury that your intentions are not criminal.

A skilled criminal attorney will use persuasive evidence and arguments to compel the judge to dismiss your charges.

You Did Not Act With Criminal Negligence

If the evidence against you is compelling, your attorney can try a defense strategy that could result in a more lenient penalty. For example, they can convince the jury that your actions were not criminally negligent to avoid a hefty penalty.

Criminal negligence occurs if other people suffer significantly from your actions or omissions. For example, if you misappropriate public funds for a needy cause and disadvantaged families suffer due to your actions, you will be guilty of criminal negligence. However, your attorney can fight for a more lenient sentence if nobody suffered significantly due to your actions.

The Amount You Misappropriated is Minimal

A criminal charge under PC 424 only applies in cases involving a significant amount of money. However, the law does not specify the amount of money that qualifies as substantial or minimal under this statute. The judge will consider the circumstances of your case to rule out whether the amount is minimal or significant to make the final verdict.

Your lawyer can use this defense strategy if they feel that the amount you are accused of misappropriating is minimal or incidental under the circumstances of your case. A skilled attorney will use convincing evidence and arguments to compel the judge to favor you. For example, if you only diverted a small percentage of the money and the rest was sufficient for the intended purpose, the judge could give you a lenient sentence or dismiss your charges.

You Are Falsely Accused

False accusations are common in the criminal justice system. Judges, prosecutors, and criminal defense attorneys always handle false cases. People falsely accuse others of jealousy, a desire for revenge, or to gain an advantage over them. If someone is jealous of you or vengeful, they can create a situation where you will face serious criminal charges like these.

If you did not misappropriate public funds, you need compelling evidence to convince the court of your innocence. Your attorney can help you gather evidence, interview witnesses, and look for any other evidence in your favor. The jury will consider the weight of your evidence and the prosecutor’s evidence to deliver a verdict.

You Reasonably Believed Your Actions Were Lawful

You could face charges under this law even for doing something you believe is right. For example, if you face charges under this law for appropriating public funds without the correct authorization, it could be because you did not know you needed approval to discharge your duty. In that case, your attorney can argue that you were doing the right thing and were unaware of the required protocol.

The same defense can also work if you unknowingly disburse funds to the wrong project. Remember that you are not guilty under this statute unless your actions are willful and criminally negligent. The judge cannot convict you under this statute if you reasonably believe the money was meant for that project.

The Police Violated Your Rights

The police must respect your rights, even if they have compelling evidence against you. Remember that every suspected offender is deemed innocent until a court of law delivers a guilty verdict. Thus, you can fight your charges and evidence against you if the police misconducted themselves during the arrest and/or crime investigation. For example, suppose the police used force or fear to obtain information from you or failed to read your Miranda rights after arrest. In that case, you can contest the prosecutor’s evidence during the trial. Any evidence the police obtain after violating your rights is inadmissible in court.

That could leave the prosecutor with zero or minimal evidence to obtain a guilty verdict. The judge will dismiss your charges if the prosecutor cannot prove your case.

Misappropriation of Public Funds and Related Offenses

The law has some offenses closely associated with PC 424. Examples include the following:

PC 503, Embezzlement

You violate this law when you take or use money or property someone else has entrusted to you. Embezzlement is similar to misappropriation of public funds, except that the former involves any property and the latter involves only public funds or resources.

When prosecuting embezzlement cases, prosecutors must demonstrate that someone else entrusted you with their money or property, but you used it for personal benefit. For example, if, as an employee, you use your employer’s money or resources for personal gain without the owner’s authorization,. The district attorney must also demonstrate a fraudulent intent to deprive the owner of the use and benefit of their property temporarily or permanently.

Embezzlement is a wobbler offense, meaning the prosecutor can charge it as a felony or misdemeanor. A misdemeanor is punishable by one year in jail, and a felony is punishable by three years.

PC 487, Grand Theft

Grand theft is a grave theft offense that involves the loss of at least $950. You commit grand theft when you take another person’s property valued for at least $950. The prosecutor can also file grand theft charges if you steal another person’s vehicle, firearm, or anything of great value.

Though grand theft and misappropriation of public funds are separate offenses, they are similar if they involve the loss of a substantial amount. However, the law treats PC 424 as a white-collar crime and grand theft as a theft offense. You could also face grand theft charges if you misappropriate public funds worth over $950 for personal use.

A conviction for grand theft is punishable by a maximum of three years in prison. The judge can enhance your penalties if you have a prior conviction for the same or similar offense or if the stolen amount is significant. The judge could sentence you to probation instead of jail or prison if the circumstances of your case allow.

Find an Experienced Criminal Attorney Near Me

Do you or your loved one face charges for misappropriating public funds in Monterey?

This is a serious charge that will likely cause you a lot of stress and anxiety. But things could improve if you had a skilled attorney's assistance. They will help you navigate the complex legal system, explain your options, and develop a solid defense to fight for a fair outcome for your case.

We have the skills and experience to help with your case at Monterey Criminal Attorney. Our team handles all kinds of white-collar cases, so we are familiar with the legal requirements and the best strategies for your case. Call us at 831-574-1791 to determine the legal implications of your charges and how we can help your situation.