Embezzlement vs Larceny: Is There a Difference?

In a general sense, embezzlement and larceny are similar crimes since both involve talking items that are not yours. Each of the crimes contain three essential elements that must be satisfactorily proven for a person to be convicted. These elements are as follows:

Embezzlement

  • The accused must have been in a position of trust and confidence and trusted with possession of someone else’s property
  • That person must then have converted that property for their own use, by taking it or hiding it or any other means
  • The intent of the accused must have been to permanently deprive the ownership of that property from the owner

Larceny

  • The accused must have wrongfully taken an item belonging to someone else without the permission to do so
  • It is necessary that the property was then moved out of the possession of the owner and relocated to another place for the accused to have use of it.
  • The intent of the accused must be that they intended to take the property in order to take the ownership of it away from the rightful owner permanently.

In determining the differences between the two crimes, the main contrast can be found by looking at element number one in each. For embezzlement, the accused is in a position of trust and confidence with possession of the property in question. This is not the case with larceny. Larceny is committed by a person with no involvement or authority to any aspect of the property. It is a completely unlawful access and removal of the items.

Both embezzlement and larceny can be forms of theft, since both contain illegal takings.   With larceny, it is required that the property be physically moved and relocated to be possessed by the accused. This is another difference from embezzlement, because that often involves bookkeeping deception, which only involves the movement of money through the ledger book, not physically moving anything.

Examples

Some examples of these crimes can make the difference even more apparent. If you consider an employee of a grocery store, perhaps the meat department manager, we can see these contrasts sharply.

The meat department manager would be assumed to be responsible for the meat in freezer and in the freezer cases in the store. If he were to walk out of the store with two steaks in his pockets, he would have been attempting to remove those items that he was in a trusted position to oversee. That is embezzlement.

Now, suppose that same person were to walk into the next grocery store he passed. They proceed to take two steaks from the meat case, put them in their pockets, and walk out the door. He would be charged with larceny in that case.

In both cases, the same person is walking out the door of a grocery store with two steaks in his pockets. In the second store, however, he has no duties or responsibilities for those steaks. That is what separates the two crimes.

Punishment

In the state of Massachusetts, the sentencing guidelines followed for a person convicted of embezzling are the ones used for larceny. This indicates that as far as the state law is concerned, the punishments would be decided on the same grid. For values involving under $250, this would qualify as a misdemeanor, and maximum sentencing would be jail time of up to one year and a fine of up to $300.

For stolen property with a value of over $250, this becomes a felony. As with all felonies, the fines are higher and the sentences are longer. The maximum sentencing for this level is five years in a state prison and/or a fine of up to $25,000.

When federal level charges are brought against someone for these charges, they become even more sever than the state charges. These then incorporate the USSC Guidelines for sentencing, and use variables from all aspects of the case to determine the sentencing range they are to be considered against.

Defenses

In defending these cases, there would not be a significant difference in how they would be defended either. Both charges involve essential elements, and there would be effort put forth to look for ways that those elements could not be satisfied. Sometimes it is intent that can be argued, and other times the permanency component is challenged.

In addition, there would be the monitoring of evidence and testimony looking for pieces that contradict, do not match, or were obtained in an unlawful manner. This can lead to evidence being cleared from the record, as well as occasional dropping of charges.

Another effective defense, when other avenues do not produce desired outcomes, is to enter into plea bargaining negotiations. These can lead to lesser crimes and smaller punishments, in terms of sentencing and fines.

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