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F 4.026a Embezzlement: Claim Of Right As Defense.
PC 511 creates a defense to the crime of embezzlement (PC 503) where “the property was appropriated openly and avowedly, and under a claim of title preferred in good faith, even though such claim is untenable.” In effect, the claim of right defense provides that, if a defendant takes property in the good faith belief that it belongs to him/her, the defendant lacks the intent necessary to commit embezzlement. (See People v. Wooten (96) 44 CA4th 1834, 1848-49 [52 CR2d 765].) However, if the defendant attempts to conceal the taking, either when it occurs or after it is discovered, the defense is unavailable. (People v. Stewart (76) 16 C3d 133, 141 [127 CR 117].) The defense also does not apply where, “although defendant may have `believed’ he acted lawfully, he was aware of contrary facts which rendered such a belief wholly unreasonable, and hence in bad faith.” (People v. Stewart, 16 C3d at 140; see also, FORECITE F 4.001a, F 4.001b and F 14.00 n4, regarding claim of right in robbery and theft cases.)
PC 511 does not permit a claim of right defense to an embezzlement charge for “self help.” Hence, an employee may not use the defense where funds have been embezzled to satisfy an alleged debt owed by the employer. (SeePeople v. Farsight (98) 64 CA4th 1402 [75 CR2d 858]; see also People v. Creath (95) 31 CA4th 312, 318-19 [37 CR2d 336].) Similarly, a partner may not take partnership funds as an offset for a debt owed by the partnership to the partner. (People v. Farsight, 64 CA4th at 1407.)