Embezzlement is the fraudulent taking of property that has been entrusted to the person’s care. A business bookkeeper who secretly transfers funds from a business account to her own account has committed the offense of embezzlement. A warehouse manager who steals goods and deletes them from warehouse records to conceal the theft would also be guilty of embezzlement.
In Iowa, embezzlement falls under the umbrella of theft. Whether the crime of embezzlement is a felony or misdemeanor depends on the value of the property that was stolen.
An Iowa criminal defense lawyer can investigate the facts and advise the accused about possible defenses to an embezzlement charge. These are some of the most common defense strategies when a defendant is accused of embezzlement.
Factual defenses might be based on evidence that the accused is innocent. A more common strategy is the argument that the prosecutor’s evidence is too weak to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Examples of factual defenses include:
- No property was taken. Funds or goods that seem to be missing are the result of accounting errors or mistaken inventories.
- Fund transfers were inadvertent and not made with the intent to steal.
- The accused had permission to take the property.
- The accused moved or borrowed the property but did not intend to deprive the business of the property.
- Another person took the property.
- Other people are just as likely to have taken the property.
- No evidence establishes that the missing money is in the accused’s bank account or that the accused has possession of the missing goods.
All factual and “reasonable doubt” defenses must be tailored to the evidence. An Iowa criminal defense lawyer will need to make a thorough investigation of the facts and carefully review the prosecution’s evidence before advising the client about the best defense strategy.
Some legal defenses focus on reasons the accused should not have been charged, such as the expiration of a statute of limitations. The failure to charging documents to define the crime correctly might also lead to a dismissal.
Other legal defenses are based on mistakes made by police investigators. For example, a search conducted without a necessary warrant or an improper subpoena for bank records might deprive the prosecution of the evidence it needs to secure a conviction. Incriminating statements that the accused made to the police might not be available as evidence if the police obtained the statements through coercion or without giving proper warnings to the accused before an interrogation began.
When factual and legal defenses are unlikely to be successful, or when the accused feels remorse and wants to admit guilt, the defense strategy focuses on mitigating harm to the accused. An embezzlement defense lawyer might advise the accused about steps he can take (such as returning the stolen property) that might minimize the accused’s punishment.
An Iowa criminal defense attorney will investigate the accused’s past and place all favorable information before the judge at sentencing. For example, a judge who learns that the accused was motivated by desperation rather than greed and that the embezzlement was a first offense might be more inclined to punish the accused with probation rather than prison.
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Read also 5 Things to Know About Sentencing for White-Collar Crimes in Iowa.