People v. Sobiek – Case Brief
People v. Sobiek, 30 Cal.App.3d 458, 106 Cal. Rptr. 519 (1973).
Facts: A group of friends established The Empire Investment Club to invest money in second mortgages. Sobiek (D) was elected president. Each member made an initial investment of $100 followed by monthly contributions of $25. Sobiek was eventually indicted for grand theft and moved to quash the indictment on the grounds that the crime of embezzlement does not apply to the theft of partnership assets by a partner. The motion was granted and the state appealed.
Issue: Does the crime of embezzlement extend to the theft of partnership assets by a partner?
Holding and Rule: Yes. The crime of embezzlement extends to the theft of partnership assets by a partner.
Sobiek’s argument that a partner cannot be criminally liable for stealing partnership assets is based on the principle that each partner is the owner of an undivided interest in all the partnership property, and no one can be guilty of stealing his own property. This notion comes from the misinterpretation of ‘property of another.’
It is both illogical and unreasonable to hold that a partner cannot steal from his partners merely because he has an undivided interest in the partnership property. Stealing that portion of the partners’ shares that does not belong to the thief is no different from stealing the property of another person. We must however address the due process concerns arising from a court’s interpretation of a statute. We do this be examining whether common social duty under the circumstances would have suggested a more circumspect conduct.
Common social duty would have forewarned defendant that circumspect conduct prohibited the robbing of his partners and also would have told him that he was stealing the property of another. The traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice are not offended by applying the clear meaning of the statutory law to this act.
Notes: This case turns on the foreseeability of the ultimate act within the scheme of the criminal statutes and common law of the state. This power of the courts to interpret the law in retrospect is limited by due process and the necessity of foreseeability. This case is occasionally cited as State v. Sobieck.
See Morone v. Morone for a contract law case brief in which the plaintiff asserted that a partnership agreement had formed between her and a man with whom she was cohabiting.