North Carolina Embezzlement Laws

Embezzlement is a kind of property theft.  It occurs when a defendant, who was entrusted to manage or monitor someone else’s money or property, steals all or part of that money or property for the defendant’s personal gain. The key is that the defendant had legal access to another’s money or property, but not legal ownership of it.  Taking the money or property for the defendant’s own gain is stealing; when combined with the fact that this stealing was also a violation of a special position of trust, you have the unique crime of embezzlement.

Embezzlement can occur in a variety of circumstances. For example, a bank teller has legal access to client money, and is trusted to handle but not take that money. Officers and employees of companies can also embezzle funds belonging to the company, as can family members caring for a relative, professionals like lawyers or board members who handle client or investor money, or anyone in a position of trust with regard to someone else’s money or property.

For more information about embezzlement, see Embezzlement: Penalties and Sentences.

How is Embezzlement Punished in North Carolina?

In North Carolina, embezzlement is punished according to the position the defendant held in relation to the victim, and the value or type of property stolen.

North Carolina uses a sentencing grid that imposes harsher penalties on defendants with one or more prior convictions. The penalties listed below are the presumptive prison terms for a defendant with no prior convictions. These penalties may differ if the judge determines that your case involves mitigating factors (factors that reduce the severity of your crime)—in which case, the judge may reduce the sentence—or aggravating factors (that increase its severity) – wherein the judge may increase your prison sentence.

Because penalties can vary so drastically, it is especially important to consult an experienced criminal defense attorney if you have been charged with an embezzlement crime in North Carolina.

Public Employees

Court employees, sheriff’s office employees, or local government employees (but not people holding public office, described below) who are convicted of embezzlement face the following penalties. Penalties vary according to the value of the money or property embezzled. (N.C. Gen. Stat. Ann. § 14-91 & 14-92.)

  • Property worth $100,000 or more. Penalties include between 59 and 73 months in prison.
  • Less than $100,000. Penalties include between 20 and 25 months in prison.

Public Officials and Other Defendants

The following penalties apply to individuals holding public office, railroad company officers, partners in North Carolina state partnerships, bank officers or employees, and other defendants who are convicted of embezzlement. (N.C. Gen. Stat. Ann. § 14-93, 14-94, 14-97, & 53-129.)

  • Property worth $100,000 or more. Penalties include between 59 and 73 months in prison.
  • Less than $100,000. Penalties include between five and six months in prison.

An Important Note on Local Legal Representation

If you have been charged with a property theft or embezzlement-related offense, consult an experienced criminal defense attorney. While the penalties and consequences of property theft charges are governed by statutory law, only a local criminal defense attorney can tell you how strong the case against you appears to be, and how cases like yours tend to be handled by prosecutors and judges in your courthouse. An experienced lawyer can also advise you as to possible alternatives to criminal punishment, such as paying back the money involved, along with court fees and other costs, or some other alternative that your judge might consider.

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