Steve Palmer

White-collar crime and its penalties

On Behalf of | Jun 5, 2024 | White Collar Crimes

Sociologist Edwin Sutherland first coined the term white-collar crime in 1939. He defined it as a crime committed by a person of respectability and high social status during his occupation. It involves offenses often characterized by deceit or concealment to obtain or avoid losing money or property, or seeking to gain a personal or business advantage. It is not violent, nor is there a threat of violence. Examples of white-collar crimes include securities fraud, embezzlement, corporate fraud, and money laundering.

Penalties beyond jail and fines

Jail time and fines are often the two most significant or most immediate concerns for those facing these charges, but there is a long list of additional penalties worth noting:

  • Restitution: This is a payment made by the perpetrator to the victims to compensate for the loss suffered. It’s often used for fraud cases where there is financial loss.
  • Probation: Instead of serving time in prison, the offender remains in the community under supervised conditions. It might include regular check-ins with a probation officer, mandatory community service, or attending rehabilitation programs.
  • Community service: The court may order the offender to perform a certain number of hours of unpaid work for the community’s benefit.
  • Forfeiture: The court often orders the forfeiture of assets obtained through illegal activities. It’s common in cases involving money laundering or fraud.
  • Home detention: Also known as house arrest, this penalty confines the offender to their home for a specified period, except for approved activities such as work, school, or medical appointments.
  • Supervised release: This is a period of oversight by a probation officer following a term of imprisonment. During this time, the offender must comply with certain conditions, which may include drug testing, employment requirements, or restrictions on associating with certain individuals.
  • Disgorgement: This is a repayment of ill-gotten gains imposed on wrongdoers by the courts. Funds received through illegal or unethical business transactions are disgorged (or paid back) with interest to those affected by the action.
  • Injunctions: Courts can issue orders prohibiting individuals or organizations from continuing their harmful actions. For example, the court may order the business engaging in deceptive practices to cease such activities.
  • Corporate monitoring: In some cases, the court may require a corporation convicted of white-collar crimes to install an independent monitor to oversee the corporation’s business activities and ensure compliance with laws and regulations.
  • Debarment: Individuals or companies convicted of white-collar crimes may be debarred or prohibited from contracting with the federal government. It’s a standard penalty in cases involving procurement fraud.
  • Loss of certification: This makes it impossible to work in an accredited field.

Other penalties have nothing to do with sentencing. Examples of these could include an unofficial blacklisting by the industry, additional social ostracization by colleagues and peers and other fallout generated by angry victims.

The role of a criminal defense lawyer

A criminal defense attorney’s primary goal is to achieve the best possible outcome for their client. This often involves negotiating penalties less severe than jail time or massive fines. Seeking the above alternatives enables the defendant to “pay” for their transgressions but in a more rehabilitative way.