Corporate Crime

Corporate crime refers to criminal offenses that are either committed by a corporation or by an individual or individuals who represent corporations. There is often an overlap between corporate crime and white-collar crime, state-corporate crime, and organized crime (a common practice among criminal organizations is to set up "shell" corporations for the purposes of committing crimes or for laundering the proceeds of crime.)

Types of Corporate Crime

Corporate crime generally takes one of two forms. First, a corporation may be established expressly as a vehicle for crime. This usually occurs in short-term operations, in which the founders of the corporation assume the airs of a legitimate business, luring unsuspecting investors in and then making off with their investments. The second and all-too-common form of corporate crime occurs in already established corporations, blending into regular business operations in a way cleverly designed to conceal illegal activity. Examples of this include profitable but environmentally damaging practices (e.g., illegally dumping toxic waste), exploitation of workers, and fraud of every kind, usually at the expense of consumers.

Prosecuting Corporate Crime

Corporate crime can be difficult to prosecute effectively. First of all, 19th century Supreme Court ruling (Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad 118 U.S. 394 (1886)) has been cited in many cases to assert that a corporation can legally be defined as a 'person,' which allows corporations to claim Bill of Rights protections in Court. Further, the Fourteenth Amendment holds that no State shall "deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws." The fact that corporate crime is often well-concealed, and that corporations can, as a rule, afford to hire legal counsel of the best quality complicates criminal procedure, impedes justice, and makes it exceedingly difficult for public prosecutors to establish guilt "beyond a reasonable doubt."

Furthermore, the state derives a great deal of its stability from the health of the many corporations that operate under its jurisdiction, particularly the large ones. The revenue generated by profitable corporations makes up a contributes significantly to the health and power of the government. Imposing a meaningful punishment on a corporation for its crimes - for example, a $100 million fine - could devastate many large corporations, which could in turn hurt the government and, perhaps, society as a whole. This creates a serious conflict of interest in prosecuting corporate crime, since the state's responsibility is at once to protect its citizens from harm and to ensure the financial health of the businesses operating within it.