Is Corporate Criminal Liability Unique?

Document Type



The most up-to-date version of this piece can be found in the Duke Law Scholarship


Critics of corporate criminal liability argue that federal criminal law is far too broad, sanctions are imposed without fault, federal sentences are too harsh, and, finally, that federal prosecutors have too much power. This article makes two points about these critiques. First, although there is merit to each of these arguments, they cannot be limited to corporate criminal liability. Rather, critics of corporate criminal are exposing problems that are endemic to the federal criminal justice system. Indeed, these criticisms apply with even more force to other kinds of federal prosecutions, including those involving federal drug and firearms offenses. Second, reforming corporate criminal liability should not take priority over more general reform of federal criminal justice. Defendants in corporate and white collar crime cases are better equipped to challenge deficiencies in the system with elite legal counsel or by raising public awareness. Moreover, corporations hold great power in modern America and increasingly engage in socially harmful behavior. The law should not provide unique leniency to white collar and corporate defendants, but must in fact seek new ways to restrain corporate misconduct.

Date of Authorship for this Version

July 2008