The Department of Justice has indicated that it will be focusing more on prosecuting individuals for corporate crimes.
The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has signaled that it will shift its approach in how it pursues and prosecutes companies and individuals who are accused of corporate wrongdoing, according to the Wall Street Journal. In a recently released memo, Deputy Attorney General Quillian Yates suggested that the DOJ will shift its focus from extracting fines from companies and organizations accused of white collar crime and will instead focus on bringing individuals themselves to trial. The change of direction has ignited a considerable degree of controversy for what it might mean for companies, shareholders, and employees.
Too many fines?
Under the leadership of former Attorney General Eric Holder, the DOJ was sometimes accused of focusing on punishing corporations and organizations for white collar crimes rather than the offenders themselves. As Forbes points out, a number of corporations were slapped with fines and penalties that amounted to tens of billions of dollars, especially in the wake of the 2008 financial crises.
The focus on extracting large payouts from corporations was criticized for two main reasons. First, critics alleged the approach largely left the purported “real” offenders untouched by the DOJ’s prosecutors. Second, critics also pointed out that the ones who got punished through the fines and penalties were shareholders, who had no role in the malfeasance that a few individual employees in the company were accused of.
Focus on individuals
Indications are that the DOJ will respond to these criticisms by focusing their efforts more on prosecuting the actual individuals implicated in any alleged corporate crimes. In addition to the recently circulated memo, Ms. Yates also told a conference in New York City recently that the DOJ’s change in approach “means pursuing not just corporate entities, but also the individuals through which these corporations act.”
That change, however, has itself been met with criticism and skepticism. On one side of the issue, critics complain that focusing on individual prosecutions does nothing to change structural problems at certain companies that may have encouraged individual wrongdoing in the first place. Additionally, some critics have suggested that the desire to prosecute individuals is based on emotional anger still lingering from the financial crisis rather than on reason.
Whatever one may think of the DOJ’s new attitude, the fact is that this change indicates that anybody who has been accused of a white collar crime needs to take such accusations more seriously than ever before. Prosecution can lead not just to prison time and hefty fees, but also to a criminal record and other restrictions that can make it extremely difficult to maintain one’s quality of life in the years to come. A criminal defense attorney who specializes in the intricacies of white collar criminal cases will be in the best position to offer accused individuals the best defense they can get when dealing with this difficult ordeal.