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Is there a difference between embezzlement and theft?

Criminal laws can be far more complicated than people realize. On the TV shows and in the movies we watch, legal concepts are often simplified and certain aspects can be skimmed over so if can be easy to get the impression that the laws are simpler than they actually are.

For example, let's consider the crime of embezzlement. People generally are aware that it involves the wrongful taking of money and keeping it for personal gain. However, people often consider this to be the same as theft. However, theft and embezzlement are two different offenses that can come with two different types of punishment upon conviction.

One main distinction between theft and embezzlement is the relationship a person has to the money or property that has been taken.

To be charged with theft, a person should be accused of unlawfully taking something that belongs to someone else without the owner's permission.

To be charged with embezzlement, however, a person will have had to have control of or other type of relationship to the property. This means he or she is in a position to manage, maintain or use the money that has been misappropriated.

There are also differences in the sentences that can be handed down, though they will all be dependent on the amount of money involved. For instance, the potential penalties for taking between property valued at between $2,500 and $5,000 will vary based on the charges. According to Minnesota statutes, the penalties of theft at this level are set at a maximum of $10,000 in fines and five years in prison. The penalties of embezzlement, however, escalate to $20,000 fines and 10 years in prison.

Most people are not aware of these and other distinctions between embezzlement and theft and lump all these types of offenses together. However, the fact is that there are specific and unique elements to each type of criminal offense.

In order to secure a conviction, prosecutors will need to prove each of the elements. If you don't know what they are or what makes them different from other offenses, you may not be able to successfully defend yourself. This is why working with an attorney who understands criminal law can be essential.

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