White Collar Crimes
The desire for more power and low self-control are among some the factors that make white collar crimes prevalent in California. Part of our LA Criminal Defense Attorney law firm is comprised of criminal defense lawyers who've helped clients on white-collar crimes such as bribery, credit card fraud, Internet fraud, tax fraud, forgery, healthcare fraud, extortion and embezzlement among others. Our mission is to continue making legal representation and legal advice on criminal defense cases available to those who need them across Los Angeles, CA. This guide gives explanations on the elements, types, penalties and legal defenses of white-collar crimes committed in California.
What Does the Term “White Collar Crime” Mean Under California Laws?
White collar crimes constitute offenses non-violently committed by government professionals or businesses for financial gain. The term "white collar crime" also refers to an offense committed by an individual of high social status and respectability in their line of work. The crime can take forms such as forgery, extortion, embezzlement, credit card fraud, burglary, bribery, identity theft, and healthcare fraud. Other types include mail fraud, Internet fraud, insurance fraud, theft, tax fraud and receiving stolen property.
Elements of a White Collar Crime
- Type of Offense
White collar crimes differ from the kind of offense committed. The offenses may include theft, fraud, and corruption. They are as follows:
Theft is a crime that involves valuable things such as money or property. The crime doesn't have to involve the use of force or threat to be considered as theft. In embezzlement (a form of white collar crime), for example, you may be charged for misusing or abusing your position to obtain money or valuable property illegally. Such an action is considered as theft.
Corruption comes into play when you (a public official) misuse your authority for financial gain. Bribery is a form of white-collar offense in which corruption can take effect. For example, you may be charged for illegally making a payment, while serving in a high position, to another party for favorable treatment or deal.
Any scheme aimed at obtaining valuable items from someone else through misrepresentation or pretenses qualifies as fraud. Unlike theft, this offense may involve using deception to convince a person to give up property voluntarily. Fraud is among the elements that form the basis for white collar crimes such as identity theft. For the case of identity theft, you may be prosecuted for using forged documents to obtain someone else's valuables.
- Type of Offender
For you to be prosecuted for a white-collar offense, you must have a high social status or respectability in your work field. Your job position may mandate you to meet high academic qualifications or head a broad division in an organization. However, your characteristics and background may differ from those of another white collar crime offender.
- Motives of Committing the White Collar Crime
Your conviction for a white collar crime will be based on your initial motivation. One goal that white collar crime offenders in California have in common is financial gain. Prosecutors will use their best possible means to prove that you intended to make financial gains from the offense you committed. Other motives (which offenders may have) include promoting personal interests (for theft and fraud offenses) and helping their company become profitable (for bribery offenses).
Common Types of White Collar Crimes in California
California’s Penal Codes highlight various types of offenses that qualify as white collar crimes. The common ones include identity theft, internet fraud, embezzlement, receiving stolen property, theft and extortion/blackmail. Detailed explanations about each one of them are as follows:
- Identity Theft
Taking someone else's identifying information with a goal of using it unlawfully or fraudulently is a crime under Penal Code 530.5. The term "identity theft" can also refer to the unauthorized use of a person's identifying information aimed at obtaining medical information, services, credit or goods. A felony identity theft conviction attracts a fine not more than $10,000 and a three-year maximum county jail sentence while a misdemeanor one attracts a fine, not more than $1,000 and a one-year maximum county jail sentence. If the federal law on identity theft is used to prosecute you, the fines and prison sentence (not exceeding 30 years in a federal prison) may be increased.
- Internet Fraud
The California AG (Attorney General) established a special crime unit (eCrime Unit) focused on investigating and prosecuting Internet fraud and cybercrime offenses. Internet fraud comprises of fraud crimes committed with the use of computers or the Internet. Your Internet fraud charges may be prosecuted in a state court under the California Internet fraud laws or in a federal court under the federal Internet fraud laws. Penalties for this offense depend on the elements of the case and your lawyer’s defenses.
Under Penal Code 503, embezzlement is the act of fraudulently taking property entrusted by someone else to you or a property belonging to someone else. As a form of white collar crime, it may involve appropriating large sums of money when you’re entrusted as an executive to keep the money safe. Embezzlement charges apply to anyone who tries to appropriate money regardless of the social status or job position. Embezzlement, as an offense, qualifies as grand theft is the appropriate sum of money is more than $950.
- Receiving Stolen Property
You may be prosecuted for such a crime if you buy, receive, conceal, sell or withhold from the right owner property that you’re confident was stolen under Penal Code 496(a). Stolen property may refer to property obtained through embezzlement, grand theft or petty theft. A PC 496(a) conviction can attract either a felony or misdemeanor penalties. Your charge qualifies as a misdemeanor if the total value of the stolen property is less than $950 and a felony if the total value of the stolen property is more than $950.
For extortion (also referred to as blackmail) to qualify as a form of white collar crime, you must have used your power/position to compel someone else to give up property or money. Such a felony offense attracts penalties including a fine, not more than $10,000 and prison sentence ranging from two to four years. Examples of extortion scenarios that don't qualify as white collar crimes include using threats or force to compel someone else to hand over their property or money.
What are the Possible Penalties for a White Collar Crime in California?
In California, penalties for white-collar crime depend on the kind of offense you're suspected of having committed. Upon proving that you non-violently committed illegal acts to gain a financial advantage or obtain money, a California may impose various punitive measures on you. Some of the factors that determine the punishment include proof of abuse of trust, proof of concealment and proof of deceit.
White collar crimes in California can be punished either as misdemeanors or felonies depending on the facts surrounding a case. Penalties for white collar misdemeanor include a county jail sentence not exceeding one year. For a felony white collar offense, punitive measures include a state prison sentence for at least one year.
Is There an Aggravated White Collar Crime Enhancement in California?
The State of California follows an aggravated white collar crime enhancement, which is a law stipulated under Penal Code 186.11. According to this law, a California judge may include an additional two or five-year sentence to your prison sentence if you're facing two or more felony charges related to embezzlement or fraud. Under PC 186.11(a)(1), repeated felony conduct means that you engaged in more than two felony offenses that have similar commission methods, victims, principals, results and purpose. This law could be used to prosecute you if you committed white collar felonies against one victim on two/more separate occasions or against two/more separate victims.
Having two prior criminal convictions for white collar crimes may also make the judge to increase your prison sentence. Your case may attract an additional prison sentence if you non-violently but illegally confiscated more than $100,000 belonging to another entity or person. Penal Code 186.11(a)(1) highlights that a defendant should only be only subjected to this crime enhancement once in any criminal proceeding.
If the repeat felony conduct leads to the loss or involves the taking of more than $500,000 belonging to another party, a judge may impose a two, three or five-year state prison sentence as additional punishment under Penal Code 186.11(a)(2). If the repeat felony offense involves taking of funds ranging from $100,000 to $500,000, you may serve an additional state prison sentence of one or two years. The other prison sentences won't be imposed unless the prosecutors prove their allegations and a judge finds them to be true.
Which Fines Apply to White Collar Crimes?
A white collar crime conviction attracts fines ranging from $1,000 to $10,000. The amount of money paid as fines depends on your charge and its severity. California courts impose fines as a way of deterring and preventing offenders from repeating a crime. California court websites highlight the acceptable means for paying the fines.
Is Restitution Among the Penalties for a White Collar Crime?
A California judge may mandate you to pay restitution (for any financial losses or setbacks) to the victims once convicted of a white-collar crime. Restitution is a form of payment that the court orders offenders to pay victims for any damages caused. The fee helps the other party recover property or money obtained from them when a crime was being committed.
The terms "fines" and "restitution" aren't supposed to be used interchangeably. Restitution is a separate punishment from fines. You get to pay fines to a court and restitution to the victim involved in a crime you committed.
Are There Other Forms of Punishment That Apply to White Collar Crimes in California?
While prison sentence, jail sentence, restitution, and fines are the typical penalties for white-collar crime offenses, a California judge can impose other penalties. One of the punishments to expect after a white collar crime conviction is the seizure of personal property. In this case, law enforcement officers will take property that you obtained as a result of the offense or you used to commit the crime.
In California, house arrest (also known as home detention) can substitute jail time. For a house arrest, you'll have to remain in your home or certain limits of your home for a particular period instead of going to jail for that period. You'll be mandated not to leave your house unless you want to seek a doctor's appointment, go to work or attend school. A house arrest violation may force you to serve the remaining criminal sentence locked up in jail.
How a Criminal Defense Lawyer Can Assist You in Fighting Your White Collar Crime Case
Having a competent criminal defense attorney intervene in your case is crucial to proving your innocence or arguing for a case dismissal. Your lawyer will locate favorable evidence and witnesses that may persuade the prosecutor from making further allegations against you. Note that the prosecutors are majorly interested in gathering all facts/evidence to exonerate you as the suspect. Expect your lawyer to use some of the legal defenses explained below in your favor.
For this legal defense to help your case, there’s to be a victim alleging that you used your power illegally for financial gain. Your criminal defense counsel may state that the victim had a desire or wish to revenge over you or a business deal that went wrong. Arguing that the accusations of the alleged victim are based on financial losses he/she caused can also work in your favor. Witnesses (including expert witnesses such as private investigators) and various forms of evidence can help support this claim.
There Was No Criminal Intent
Convictions for white collar crimes require the prosecutor to present facts/evidence showing that you committed an offense out of intent. “Intent" is among the elements of criminal cases that are hard to prove. It's possible that the crime you're accused of committing was a mistake you unintentionally made. Your lawyer can use this argument to get your charges reduced or dismissed.
You Had a Lawful Right to the Property
Prosecutors might lack sufficient evidence to prove that you expected financial gain from an alleged crime if you had a lawful right to a particular property. For instance, Penal Code 503 (California's embezzlement law) highlights that you can't be guilty of embezzling property that you're lawfully entitled to use. For this argument to suffice in court, you shouldn't obtain the property to recover a debt the owner owes you. You must have also taken the property openly (without concealing your actions).
You Work as a Software Provider or an Interactive Computer Service Provider
Identity theft crimes are becoming rampant in California with computers helping fraudsters acquire, transfer, convey, retain possession or sell other people's identifying information. If you're accused of such an offense under Penal Code 530.5, your lawyer may argue that you work as an interactive computer service provider or a software provider. With this defense, prosecutors may lack probable reasons to prove that you intended to acquire illegally, transfer, convey or retain someone else's identifying information.
Arguing that the prosecutors were quick to charge you for a white collar crime without evidence can work on your favor. Your lawyer can inform the court that the testimony given by the alleged victim isn’t credible and reliable. For an alleged white collar crime such as extortion, a California court may ask the prosecution team to gather sufficient evidence if the victim’s testimony appears to be unreliable.
You Got Consent From the Other Party
Consent is among the elements used to build cases for white collar crimes such as embezzlement, extortion, grand theft, and Internet fraud. In this case, if you intended to use your power to obtain someone else's property or identifying information for financial gain, you must have gotten consent or permission from the owner. Your lawyer can prove "consent" using the contracts that you signed with the other party and statements from witnesses that were present when the consent was given.
What Are Other Crimes are Related to White Collar Crimes in California?
Just like in other criminal proceedings, prosecutors may suggest to the court that you committed a crime related to the white-collar criminal charge you're facing. Expect them to base their evidence/facts on crimes that share certain aspects of white-collar offenses. Some of these crimes are discussed below:
A corporate crime, which benefits high-ranking individuals or investors in a corporation or company, deals with a particular company as a whole. One thing corporate crimes share with white collar crimes is that they both transpire in the business world. While a white collar offense benefits the person involved, a corporate offense aims at benefiting a corporation or company. An example of corporate crime is insider trading, which may involve top-level executives selling their shares at the same time a commodity (related to their company) makes high market gains.
Blue Collar Crimes
Blue collar crimes typically involve individuals hired in unskilled environments. A blue collar crime is the exact opposite of a white collar crime since the offender has fewer opportunities for making illegal financial gains. Blue collar offenses (such as shoplifting and vandalism) attract more active attention from the police officers. They involve the use of physical force (an act of violence).
Organized Transnational Crimes
Such crimes occur across multiple national jurisdictions with reliance on advances in information technology and transportation. Policymakers and law enforcement officials readily respond to them since they negatively affect a country as a whole. Common examples of organized transnational crimes include terrorism, illegal arms dealing, drug smuggling, money laundering, and human trafficking.
Opportunities for committing such a crime may appear when a state is negotiating agreements with a corporation. Just like a white collar crime, the possibilities may help high-ranking officials on both sides. Prosecutors may decide to charge you for this crime if the white collar offense you committed involved negotiations between the State of California and a particular corporation.
Occupational crimes occur after exploiting opportunities presented in an occupation. Examples include misuse of company information, vandalism, and theft of company property. You don't necessarily have to serve in a top position to commit an occupational crime, unlike a white-collar crime. However, your employment should be legal (which means that you must have signed an employment contract for the occupation).
Crimes Related to National Security
The term "national security," in the US, is used when referring to the security of US states and territories including the institutions, economy, and citizens of the country. In the past, this term only covered actions the government takes to prevent a military attack. Today, the word covers non-military functions such as cybersecurity, crime, environmental security, energy security, food security, and economic security among others. A white collar crime may be considered as a national security crime and prosecuted in a US federal court if it covers one of these forms of national security.