Many people think that embezzlement and theft are ultimately the same. However, while embezzlement is a form of theft, in the state of California, the law differentiates and prosecutes both in different ways. Here, criminal defense attorney Rahul Balaram discusses how embezzlement differs from theft.

Theft is defined as “the unlawful and willful taking of another person’s personal property with the intent to deprive the person of that property.”

Embezzlement, under California Penal Code Section 503, is defined as the “fraudulent appropriation of property by a person to whom it has been entrusted.” Depending on the value of the property taken, embezzlement can be a misdemeanor or felony in California. If the value of the property is less than $950, it may be classified as a misdemeanor and can be punishable up to 364 days in jail or up to a $1000 fine. If the value is greater than $950, it may be classified as a felony, and the offender is subject to jail time up to three years or fines up to $10,000.


The difference between theft and embezzlement can come down to the intent of the action. Theft and larceny are defined as taking away or removing the property of another with “the intent to deprive that person permanently of the property.” While theft has the distinct action of taking property to deprive the victim of it, embezzlement does not always have that intent associated with it.


One crucial distinction between theft and embezzlement is the relationship between the owner of the property and the individual who takes it. For example, theft could easily be described as a situation on a street in which an individual grabs a purse from an innocent bystander and runs off. There is no known relationship between that victim and criminal. However, in an embezzlement situation, it is most commonly an employee of a business who is stealing directly from their manager or the company, so there is a known relationship.


In cases of embezzlement, the thief has access, and the property is under their ownership in some capacity. In cases of theft, the property taken was not previously in possession of the criminal. The key difference is that the property is knowingly under the possession and ownership of the offender.

Property of Trust

Trust is another key component. A property owner must give some ownership to an employee, etc. and have a relationship established. In cases of embezzlement, the offending individual has been entrusted to protect and care for some property. For example, banks trust their employees to handle money properly, restaurants expect their employees to manage a cash register effectively, and businesses trust their bookkeeper to maintain accurate records.

About Rahul Balaram

Rahul Balaram is an experienced and dedicated attorney that has represented hundreds of clients. Mr. Balaram takes pride in ensuring his clients are aware of every aspect of their case and that their interests are presented with dignity, compassion, and competence. Rahul opened the Balaram Law Office in Santa Rosa and is widely known for his excellent trial skills, his unrelenting work on behalf of his clients, and the outstanding results that his clients receive.