Embezzlement “Legally” Defined

The following definitions for “embezzlement” are taken from Ballantine’s Law Dictionary (3rd edition), Bouvier’s Law Dictionary (6th edition), Black’s Law Dictionary (2nd edition), and Webster’s 1828 Dictionary:





A statutory offense, not a common law crime; the fraudulent appropriation or conversion by an agent, an employee, a corporate officer, a trustee, a public officer, or other person acting in a fiduciary capacity or character, of money or property, the possession of which has been entrusted to him by another [18 Am J1st Embez § 2]. The word includes misappropriation of trifling sums, made with intent to restore in due time, and with ample present and prospective ability to restore [United States v. Summers (DC Va) 19 F 627]. In statutes imposing a double liability in damages for the “embezzlement” of property of a decedent prior to the granting of letters testamentary or letters of administration, the terms means the fraudulent appropriation or concealment to one’s own use of estate property in one’s possession [Anno: 29 ALR2d 256].



  1. The fraudulently removing and secreting of personal property, with which the party has been entrusted, for the purpose of applying it to his own use.

  2. The Act of April 30, 1790 [s. 16, 1 Story, L. U. S. 86] provides, that if any person, within any of the laces under the sole and exclusive jurisdiction of the United States, or upon the high seas, shall take and carry away, with an intent to steal or purloin, the personal goods of another; or if any person or persons, having, at any time hereafter, the charge or custody of any arms, ordinance, munition, shot, powder, or habiliments of war, belonging to the United States, or of any victuals provided for the victualing of any soldiers, gunners, marines, or pioneers, shall, for any lucre or gain, or wittingly, advisedly, and of purpose to hinder or impede the service of the United States, embezzle, purloin, or convey away, any of the said arms, ordinance, munition, shot or powder, the habiliments of war, or victuals, that then, and in every of the cases aforesaid, the persons so offending, their counsellors, aiders and abettors (knowing of, and privy to the offenses aforesaid) shall, on conviction, be fined, not exceeding the fourfold value of the property so stolen, embezzled or purloined the one moiety to be paid to the owner of the goods, or the United States, as the case may be, and the other moiety to the informer and prosecutor, and be publicly whipped, not exceeding thirty-nine stripes.

  3. The Act of April 20, 1818 [3 Story 1715] directs that wines and distilled spirits shall, in certain cases, be deposited in the public warehouses of the United States, and then it is enacted [s. 5] that if any wines, or other spirits, deposited under the provisions of this act, shall be embezzled, or fraudulently hid or removed, from any store or place where in they shall have been deposited, they shall be forfeited, and the person or persons so embezzling, hiding, or removing the same, or aiding or assisting therein, shall be liable to the same pains and penalties as if such wines or spirits had been fraudulently unshipped or landed without payment of duty.

  4. By the 21st section of the act to reduce into one of the several acts establishing and regulating the post-office, passed March3, 1825 [3 Story 1991] the offense of embezzling letters is punished with fine and imprisonment.

  5. The act more effectually to provide for the punishment of certain crimes against the United States, and for other purposes, passed March 3, 1825 [s. 24; 3 Story, 2006] enacts, that if any of the gold or silver coins which shall be struck or coined at the mint of the United States, shall be debased, or made worse, as to the proportion of the fine gold or fine silver therein contained, or shall be of less weight or value than the same ought to be, pursuant to the several acts relative thereto, through the default or with the connivance of any of the officers or persons who shall be employed at the said mint, for the purpose of profit or gain, or otherwise, with a fraudulent intent and if any of the said officers or persons shall embezzle any of the metals which shall, at any time, be committed to their charge for the purpose of being coined; or any of the coins which shall be struck or coined, at the said mint; every such officer, or person who shall commit any, or either, of the said offenses, shall be deemed guilty of felony, and shall be sentenced to imprisonment and hard labor for a term not less than one year, nor more than ten years, and shall be fined in a sum not exceeding ten thousand dollars.

  6. When an embezzlement of a part of the cargo takes place on board of a ship, either from the fault, fraud, connivance or negligence of any of the crow, they are bound to contribute to the reparation of the loss, in proportion to their wages. When the embezzlement is fixed on any individual, he is solely responsible; when it is made by the crew, or some of the crew, but the particular offender is unknown, and from the circumstances of the case, strong presumptions of guilt apply to the whole crew, all must contribute. The presumption of innocence is always in favor of the crew, and the guilt of the parties must be established, beyond all reasonable doubt, before they can be required to contribute [1 Mason’s R. 104; 4 B. & P. 347; 3 Johns. Rep. 17; 1 Marsh. Ins. 241; Dane’s Ab. Index, h. t.; Wesk. Ins. 194; 3 Kent, Com., 151; Hardin, 529].


The fraudulent appropriation to his own use or benefit of property or money intrusted to him by another, by a clerk, agent, trustee, public officer, or other person acting in a fiduciary character [see 4 Bl. Comm. 230, 231; 3 kent, Comm. 194; 4 Steph. Comm. 168, 169, 219; Fagnan v. Knox, 40 N. Y. Super, Ct. 49; State v. Sullivan, 49 La. Ann. 197, 21 South. 688, 62 Am. St. Rep. 644; State v. Trolson, 21 Nev. 419, 32 Pac. 930; Moore v. U. S., 160 U. S. 268, 16 Sup Ct. 294, 40 L. Ed. 422; Fulton v. Hammond (C. C.) 11 Fed. 293; People v. Gordon, 133 Cal. 328, 65 Pac. 746, 85 Am. St. Rep. 174].

Embezzlement is a fraudulent appropriation of property by a person to whom it has been intrusted [Pen. Code. Cal. § 50; Pen. Code Dak. § 596].

Embezzlement is a species of larceny, and the term is applicable to cases of furtive and fraudulent appropriation by clerks, servants or carries of property coming into their possession by virtue of their employment. It is distinguished from “larceny,” properly so called, as being committed in respect of property which is not at the time in the actual or legal possession of the owner [People v. Burr, 41 How. Prac. (N. Y.) 294; 4 Steph. Comm. 168].

  • Embezzlement is not an offense at common law, but was created by statute. “Embezzle” includes in its meaning appropriation to one’s own use, and therefore the use of the single word “embezzle,” in the indictment or information, contains within itself the charge that the defendant appropriated the money or property to his own use [State v. Wolff, 34 La. Ann. 1153].


The act of fraudulently appropriating to one’s own use, the money or goods entrusted to one’s care and management. An accurate account of the embezzlements of public money would form a curious history.

  • The thing appropriated.

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