Understanding embezzlement and possible defenses

Embezzlement is a crime where a person has lawful possession of another person’s property, but converts or takes that property for their own use with no intention of returning it. If a person is charged with this crime, there can be serious consequences.

Embezzlement occurs most often where a trusted person is given access to another person’s money or property. It can extend to fraudulent billing, falsifying records, financial schemes and taking public funds, among others.


Generally, there are four elements required to prove embezzlement. There must be a fiduciary relationship between the parties, the accused person must have acquired the property through that relationship, the accused person must have taken ownership of the property or transferred it to someone else and the accused person’s actions must have been intentional.

Defenses to embezzlement

The defenses to an embezzlement charge will be dependent on the individual’s circumstances, however there are a few general types of defenses that may useful to consider.

If the person did not believe the money or property belonged to someone else or did not intend to take the property permanently, that may be a defense because intent is a required element of embezzlement.

Also, if the accused person believed he or she would be harmed if they did not take the money or property, he or she may be able to use duress as a defense. In addition, if the person lacked the capacity to commit the crime that may also be a defense to embezzlement.

If a person is charged with embezzlement, an experienced attorney can evaluate the situation and provide guidance about the defense that is most appropriate.