Misappropriation is a form of theft where an individual misuses or takes something (usually money or property) for an unauthorized purpose. Misappropriation often occurs as an abuse of a fiduciary duty.  For example, when an administrator of a dead person's estate keeps the money or property instead of giving it to the intended recipients, a court will find misappropriation. 

In the last few decades, misappropriation has also been applied to individual theft and misuse of information, such as with cases involving trade secret violations or insider trading. For example, when a company uses a celebrity’s image to promote the company’s products without the celebrity’s consent, a court will find misappropriation.  Misappropriation is usually a felony.

What Are the Consequences of Misappropriation?

Misappropriation can have very serious consequences, including: 

  • Imprisonment
  • Fines
  • Probation
  • Permanent Criminal Record

What Happens after Being Found Guilty of Misappropriation?

The punishment for misappropriation may be determined by: 

  • The value of the property affected
  • Previous criminal record

What Kind of Defenses Could Be Used to Counter a Misappropriation Charge?

Since misappropriation is considered a form of theft, arguments countering charges of theft can be modified and utilized against misappropriation, including:

  • Property did not belong to the plaintiff. Information which is available to everyone, such as facts in a news story, is considered public and thus cannot be owned by the plaintiff.
  • Independent development of property. The defendant did not “take” the plaintiff’s trade secrets if the defendant created the trade secrets independent of the plaintiff’s knowledge, resources and involvement.
  • Consent by the plaintiff. If the plaintiff had given the defendant permission to use the property for a purpose, than the defendant cannot be guilty of misuse if the defendant used the property for that purpose.

What Can You Do If You Are Accused of Misappropriation?

If you are accused of misappropriation you should speak to a lawyer immediately to learn more about your rights, your defenses, and the complicated legal system.

Do I Need a Lawyer?

If you are a victim of misappropriation you should call the police. If there is sufficient evidence, the police will forward your case to the District Attorney's office to prosecute the person who committed the crime against you. Likewise, if you being accused of misappropriation, a criminal defense lawyer may be able to help.