Staying Calm In Court

What Does It Mean To Have Criminally Mishandled Money?

A major portion of white collar criminal law focuses on issues involving when it's illegal for people to mishandle money. This is especially the case if they work for organizations.

However, people mishandle money all the time, and it usually doesn't lead to charges. What makes the mishandling rise to the level of alleged criminality? More importantly, how can someone accused of wrongdoing use the legal definition in their defense?

Position of Trust

In the world of white collar legal services, defendants are often individuals who were in what the law considers positions of trust. A corporate officer, for example, is in a position where shareholders and other stakeholders must trust them to not misuse company money. To preserve society's stake in having no one steal from their organizations, the law imposes penalties on people who willfully take from the operations that trust them.


Note the importance of the concept of willfulness. It's not enough the money went away. People in positions of trust can and will lose money in the course of their work. The law understands that people take calculated risks with money while working for businesses, non-profits, and governments. It's not illegal to have a project not pan out, for example.

The standard of evidence for most white collar cases includes a strong component of knowing intent. A person must know they're doing wrong when they mishandle the money. Suppose a city supervisor wrote a check from public funds to cover their kid's birthday presents. That might be embezzlement because they know the money is only for city use.

Documentation of Intent

When a white collar crime attorney looks at a prosecutor's case, a lot of their focus is on what the state can document in terms of intent. For instance, are there emails showing the defendant was joking about mishandling the money? If there isn't a trail of overt statements, is there evidence the defendant should have known? For example, accountants should know they can't touch clients' funds outside of assessing their standard fees.

Burden of Proof

If you're a white collar criminal defendant, the good news is the burden of proof is high in these cases. Several defenses are likely to be available, including lack of criminal intent, good-faith replacement of the funds, and conformity to professional standards. It's wise, however, to hire a white collar crime attorney and plan your defense before you respond to any allegations.

Contact a white collar legal service to learn more.