A Violation of Trust: Understanding the Essence of Fraudulent Intent


In the realm of criminal charges, South Carolina introduces the concept of “breach of trust” as its version of embezzlement. However, this charge is often misinterpreted due to two main reasons. Firstly, law enforcement may lack a comprehensive understanding of the elements that need to be proven. Secondly, the alleged “victim” may manipulate the situation to extort money in what could otherwise be resolved as a civil dispute. In this article, we will explore when breach of trust charges are invalid, and what the state must establish to secure a conviction.

Unveiling Breach of Trust in SC

To successfully convict an individual of breach of trust, the state must establish the following elements:

  1. Existence of a fiduciary or trust relationship with the alleged victim.
  2. Appropriation of property from the alleged victim.
  3. The property in question was being held in trust for the benefit of the alleged victim.
  4. The property was taken with the intention to defraud the alleged victim.

Failure to meet any of these elements renders breach of trust an inappropriate charge. In such cases, a wrongful arrest occurs when there is no probable cause to satisfy these prerequisites. Alternatively, if the elements of breach of trust are absent, it may be appropriate to consider alternative criminal charges or to resolve the matter in civil court.

When Breach of Trust Ceases to Exist

Frequently, breach of trust charges arise from disagreements with employers or individuals who believe they are owed money. However, it is important to note that it is illegal and unethical to exploit the criminal justice system to gain an advantage in a civil matter. Sometimes, situations that fall under breach of trust include an employee borrowing a vehicle and not returning it promptly, equipment going missing from a job site with the worker being blamed, or money disappearing from a store’s cash register, resulting in the employee being accused. Additionally, scenarios arise where a homeowner is dissatisfied with the quality of a contracted roof.

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Under these circumstances, individuals who feel taken advantage of or believe they did not receive the expected benefit of an agreement may approach law enforcement, urging them to make an arrest. Alternatively, they might seek the counsel of a civil lawyer who advises them that the defendant will likely refuse to pay if a lawsuit is filed. However, if the defendant is arrested, they would be pressured to provide restitution by the court. It is crucial to reiterate that using the criminal justice system for an advantage in a civil matter is both illegal and unethical.

Penalties for Breach of Trust in SC

The severity of penalties for breach of trust is contingent upon the alleged dollar amount taken or the value of the stolen property. The potential consequences are as follows:

  • Breach of trust under $2000 is a misdemeanor, punishable by a maximum of 30 days.
  • $2000 to $10,000 constitutes a felony, carrying a potential sentence of up to five years.
  • Amounts exceeding $10,000 result in a felony charge, punishable by a maximum of ten years.

Seeking Legal Guidance from a Trusted Source

If you find yourself under investigation for breach of trust, it is crucial to exercise caution. Refrain from answering questions or meeting with law enforcement until you have consulted your SC criminal defense lawyer. Similarly, if you suspect that you may be under investigation, it is advisable to avoid interviews with your employer, loss prevention, or business associates if there is a possibility they intend to press charges against you.

To protect your rights and navigate the legal complexities surrounding breach of trust or embezzlement charges, contact the Garrity Traina Defense Firm today. Call (843) 444-6122 or visit our website to access experienced legal representation in Columbia, Lexington, and Myrtle Beach.

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