What is the difference between embezzlement and theft?

When it comes to the legal definition of specific criminal charges, it’s very easy to get common words confused. One example is how many people use “theft” and “embezzlement” interchangeably. There are unquestionably similarities between the two terms, but it’s also clear that there are major differences. It is also important to realize that the differences between these two charges may vary as every state, including Tennessee, has its own criminal code.

Understanding key differences

Theft is defined as taking an item from whoever owns it. Intent to eventually return the item, sell for profit, or keep it is irrelevant. The point of a theft charge is that a person has stolen something that does not belong to them. It can be a physical item, a digital one, or intellectual property. For example, stealing money from someone’s wallet would be considered theft.

Embezzlement means that someone takes funds directly from a company or customer and appropriates that money elsewhere, usually directly into their own pocket. An example of embezzlement might be an employee taking the company’s petty cash and spending it on their own food or entertainment. Generally speaking, people with access to a company’s money, bank accounts, or financial records are the most likely to commit such an act. It is often considered a white-collar crime because of the workplaces where it is likely to occur.

Defending against theft and embezzlement

For criminal defense purposes, the differences between theft and embezzlement have major implications and will require different legal strategies to defend against the charges. While these terms may appear very similar, it is helpful for you to understand these differences, particularly if you have been accused of either of these crimes.

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