The laws governing embezzlement in Florida are somewhat complex and not necessarily intuitive. The following article will explore embezzlement laws in Florida and what you need to know if you ever find yourself charged with embezzlement.
Generally, embezzlement is the act of withholding assets for the purpose of conversion of those assets by one who was entrusted to hold or use those assets in a different way. Generally the crime has five elements
- criminal conversion,
- of another,
- lawful possession.
To show fraudulence, the prosecutor must show that the defendant willfully and without a claim of right or mistake converted the property to their own use. Meanwhile, conversion requires a substantial interference with the property rights of the true owner. Property involved in embezzlement may be either tangible or intangible, but it is not typically charged in relation to real property, and that property must be owned by someone other than the defendant.
Lawful possession is the most important element that differentiates embezzlement from other theft crimes. The prosecutor must prove that the defendant was in lawful possession at the time of the conversion, as mere custody does not suffice for a charge of embezzlement.
Difference From Larceny
Embezzlement in Florida is distinct from the crime of larceny in three important ways. First an actual conversion must take place to qualify as conversion. Larceny only requires the slightest movement of the property to sustain a charge, but embezzlement requires that the true owner’s rights be substantially interfered with by the defendant.
Second, in embezzlement the original taking must not be trespassory. The defendant must have had a right to possess, use, or access the property in question at the time of the conversion, as unlawfully accessing the property defeats that element.
Third, the penalties for embezzlement tend to be much stiffer than those for larceny. We shall address that below.
In Florida, embezzlement may be charged as either grand theft or petit theft. If the value of the property embezzled is less than $300, the crime is petit theft, which is a misdemeanor and punishable by up to one year in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.
However, if the value of the property embezzled is between $300 and $20,000, the crime is grand theft in the third degree, which could lead to a prison sentence of up to 5 years and a fine of up to $5,000. If the property is valued at over $20,000 but less than $100,000, the charge is that of grand theft in the second degree, which may result in a prison term of up to 15 years and a fine of up to $10,000. Should the value of the stolen goods exceed $100,000, the crime is grand theft in the first degree, which could earn the defendant a prison sentence of 30 years and a fine of up to $10,000.
Two typical defenses to a charge of embezzlement in Florida are
- good faith belief and
The defendant may legitimately believe that he or she had the right to possess the property involved in the alleged embezzlement, which would defeat the intent element of the crime of embezzlement.
Alternatively, the defendant may have been given consent by the original owner in addition to the initial consent to hold the property to carry out the acts that he or she did, making those acts legal and not acts of embezzlement.