Defending Against Embezzlement Charges

The word “embezzlement” tends to conjure up images of unscrupulous businessmen siphoning off company funds into their own private accounts, probably in part because the word is frequently thrown around in coverage of corporate theft cases.  But embezzlement isn’t actually a crime in Arizona. Here, it’s just a fancy word for “stealing.”  So in Arizona, “embezzlement” cases are treated just like any other case of theft. If you have been accused of stealing in Arizona, a criminal defense lawyer can be your best friend.

How does Arizona categorize theft cases?

In Arizona, theft cases are differentiated based on the amount of property or services alleged to have been stolen.  There are six categories:

  • Theft of under $1,000 is considered a Class 1 misdemeanor, and can carry a sentence of up to six months in jail.
  • Theft of between $1,000 – $1,999 is a Class 6 felony, which typically carries a sentence of one year in prison for first offenders.
  • Theft of $2,000 – $2,999 is a Class 5 felony, and generally comes with a sentence of 1.5 years in prison for first offenders.
  • Theft of between $3,000 – $3,999 is a Class 4 felony, which usually has a sentence of 2.5 years in prison for first offenders.
  • Theft of at least $4,000 but less than $25,000 is a Class 3 felony, generally punishable by 3.5 years in prison for first offenders.
  • Theft of any property or services valued at $25,000 or more is a Class 2 felony, and is typically punishable by 5 years in prison for first offenders.

What defenses are available against theft or embezzlement charges?

The defense presented against a charge of theft depends almost entirely on the circumstances of the case.  There are some general principles that apply to most cases, however.  The most effective way to beat a theft charge is to establish that the defendant’s conduct does not meet the criteria to be considered illegal under Arizona law.  Arizona’s theft laws prohibit nine different forms of general theft; some examples of charges that might be included in an “embezzlement” prosecution include:

  • Obtaining services or property of another through a “material misrepresentation”
  • Using services or property entrusted to the defendant for an unauthorized purpose
  • Obtaining services known to the defendant to require payment without paying for them

To explain, suppose an investment banker is accused of embezzling from his company by taking advantage of company services for which customers are required to pay a fee.  This could potentially qualify as obtaining services without paying.  To defend against this charge, the banker could try showing that he had in fact been authorized to use the company’s services.  This authority might have been explicitly granted by a company officer, or may have been implied through the general practices of the company’s employees.

As you can see, defending against accusations of theft or embezzlement requires crafting a defense carefully tailored to the specific facts of your case.  If you’ve been accused of theft, you need an attorney with experience defending clients in Arizona.  Our firm has been successfully defending clients against theft and related charges throughout Arizona for decades, and our attorneys are available to defend you as well. If you need to speak with an attorney, call us today to schedule your free, confidential legal consultation.