Crimes of the business world

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Crimes of the business world


 Crime is recognized widely as a serious problem in the United States, but there is little agreement over how to cope with it. It is important to understand that most of the specific crimes discussed in this text are not new or unique.

~The discussion of property crimes noted that historically, under a laissez-faire attitude of "let the buyer beware," individuals were expected to examine carefully every business deal. Today, with a much more complicated social and business system, criminal law has become more realistic and more protective of businesspeople and other consumers. Changing technology has altered the nature of criminality, too, bringing new possibilities for committing crimes and thus creating the need for new statutes.

Various terms have been used to describe the crimes. The term white-collar crime is used frequently to refer to business crimes, and it defined as "a crime committed by a person of respectability and high social status in the course of his occupation."

Under today's federal law, white-collar crime is defined as "an illegal act or series of illegal acts committed by nonphysical means and by concealment or guile, to obtain money or property, to avoid the payment or loss of money or property, or to obtain business or personal advantage

White-collar crimes are illegal acts that use deceit and concealment—rather than the application or threat of physical force or violence—to obtain money, property, or service; to avoid the payment or loss of money; or to secure a business or personal advantage. White-collar criminals occupy positions of responsibility and trust in government, industry, the professions, and civil organizations.                                                                                             

Corporate crime is another term used in reference to business crimes. It is a narrower term than white-collar crime, focusing on organizational crime. The terms have been distinguished as follows:

If a policymaking corporate executive is acting in the name of the corporation and the individual's decision to violate the law is for the benefit of the corporation, as in price-fixing violations, the violation would constitute corporate crime.                                                                                                 

If on the other hand, the corporate official acts against the corporation, as in the case of embezzlement, and benefits in a personal way from his official connections with the corporation, his acts would constitute white-collar or occupational crime.                                                                                         

Individual liability for any of the crimes committed by people in the course of business may be determined by the same principles discussed earlier regard­ing criminal liability. Some crimes have special elements that must be proved in each case. When individuals are charged with bribery, extortion, employee theft, fraud, false pretense, tax evasion, or any other business crime, any elements peculiar to that crime must be proved along with the required act mental element, and causation. The same is true when several people are-charged, as in conspiracy.

The rules change when a corporation is charged with a crime or when a corporate executive is charged with a crime committed by an employee. Is addition, a distinction must be made between allegations of criminal and ton liability. That discussion noted that there are three types of liability without fault or areas in which an individual may be held liable for a crime without a criminal intent or without even having knowledge that a crime is being committed.

Under a strict liability theory, a person may be held criminally liable for such acts as statutory rape or selling liquor to a minor even if that person did not know the victim or buyer was under the legal age. Under vicarious liability theory, individuals may be held criminally liable for the crimes of those who work for them; for example, employers may be held liable for employees who sell food or drugs that are in violation of pure food and drug laws and that result in the injury or death of consumers.

Enterprise liability theory, also called corporate liability, provides that under some circumstances corporate officers and officials may be held crimi­nally liable for the acts of their employees. Historically corporations were not held liable for homicide, although as far back as 1909 the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of holding a corporation criminally liable for the acts and omissions of its agents. In New York Central and Hudson River Railroad Co. v. United States, the Court permitted imputing the criminal intent of a corporate agent to the corporation. This case was a break with the traditional common law approach that corporations could not be held criminally liable, although their agents could. As corporations became more powerful and more dangerous, legislatures and courts began to recognize corporate criminal liability.

In recent years there have been an increasing number of indictments and prosecutions against corporations for violent crimes such as homicide.

Corporate agents may be held criminally liable for the acts of other employees within the corporation, but the corporate agent may not be convicted if he or she can prove a lack of power to control the situation. When criminal liability is imposed on corporate agents for the acts of their employ­ees, most courts limit punishment to penalties such as a fine.

The Model Penal Code (MPC) provides for corporate liability in three areas, with the broadest base of liability "incurred as a consequence of conduct by an agent of the corporation acting on behalf of the corporation and within the scope of his employment." That liability is "limited to violations and to offenses defined by statutes outside the criminal code that plainly evidence a legislative purpose to impose liability on a corporation.

Because many business crimes are prosecuted under federal law, federal statutes are used to illustrate most of the crimes discussed here. States prosecute these crimes, too, but their statutes vary. Furthermore, there is considerable overlap among criminal, civil, and administrative laws covering business crimes.

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