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Name: Stark v. Superior Court
Case #: S145337
Court: CA Supreme Court
District CalSup
Opinion Date: 08/01/2011

Penal Code section 424, the misappropriation of funds by a public officer, is a general intent crime which includes a mental state of either actual knowledge of the legal duty which is violated, or criminal negligence in failing to know the legal requirements of the office. The auditor-controller of Sutter County challenged the indictment against him involving the transfer of funds between budget units, withholding payments to budget units, or withholding wages. Even general intent crimes often require some kind of knowledge. This statute requires a broader mental state beyond a mere intent to do the act. It is not a strict liability crime, but it prohibits acts which the public official knows are contrary to his legal obligation, or involve an obligation which he does not know about due to his criminal negligence.

An indictment based on improper instruction to the grand jury on the mental state element of the offense is subject to dismissal pursuant to Penal Code section 995 because it raises the possibility that the defendant may have been indicted on less than probable cause. Despite the mental state requirement, the prosecutor instructed the grand jury that section 424 is simply a general intent crime and ignorance of the law is no excuse.