American responses to white-collar crime, especially corporate wrongdoing, passed a turning point in 1991 with the enactment of the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines for Organizations, which adopted a “carrot and stick” approach to sentencing corporate offenders, including big incentives for companies introducing compliance programs. In the 2000s, this approach was enhanced by the enactment of the Sarbanes–Oxley Act of 2002 and the Thompson memo of 2003. In addition to the effects of the Thompson memo, federal prosecutors, learning from the fate of Arthur Andersen, came increasingly to rely on deferred prosecution agreements (DPAs) and non-prosecution agreements (NPAs) after 2005. However, the Yates memo issued in September 2015 may change Department of Justice policy on corporate wrongdoing dramatically, particularly regarding investigation and prosecution of individuals. In thinking about and conceptualizing legal and political responses to white-collar crime, two main actors are meaningful: the corporation and the individual. Today, a corporation is criminally liable under the respondeat superior doctrine in federal criminal law, and corporate offenders are sentenced under the Organizational Sentencing Guidelines, which provide for fines, restitution, and probation as possible criminal penalties. In recent years, around 150–200 organizations have been sentenced under the Sentencing Guidelines annually. An individual white-collar criminal may be personally liable for their unlawful acts even if the corporation itself is convicted too. Individuals may be convicted absent any showing of mens rea in rare cases (strict liability crime and “willful blindness”). In the last decade, more than 8,000 individuals were prosecuted and convicted, for around a 90% conviction rate. One effect of the Yates memo may be to shift the main target of legal and political response to white-collar crime from the corporation to the individual. New policies under the Yates memo also come with new problems, for instance, that companies may lose incentive to introduce a compliance program or may look for scapegoats to escape prosecution themselves.
Sentencing is a complex task that involves judicial officers imposing sentences in the first instance and deciding appeals from those judges in certain circumstances. Both trial and appellate courts are usually invested with some discretion as to the nature and quantum of sentence that may be imposed. Appellate jurisdiction varies widely between countries reflecting disparate approaches to discretion, differences in the grounds of appeal, in the deference paid to trial judges and the role of prosecution in the appellate process. While most jurisdictions give defendants the right to appeal against sentence, they differ in the ability of prosecuting authorities to appeal against sentence. In some jurisdictions there is considerable asymmetry between defendants’ and prosecution’s appellate rights. Historically, defendants’ rights of appeal preceded, and have been more extensive those of the prosecution, and traditionally, the balance has been tilted in favor of defendants. However, in a number of jurisdictions, this imbalance has been questioned. The principal arguments against prosecution appeals have centered on the concept of double jeopardy, which has long applied in substantive criminal procedure. Since the early 1980s the analogy with substantive double jeopardy has been questioned or rejected as has the double jeopardy principle itself. Justifications for the principle such as the anxiety and distress suffered by the defendant, the need for finality, the possibility of double punishment, and the abuse of power have all been re-assessed. The case for equal or symmetrical rights rests on the basis that the law requires that error, whether in favor of the defendant or the prosecution, should be corrected as a matter of justice. A balanced appellate process can ensure consistency in, and the adequacy of, sentencing standards, provide guidance to sentencing judges, and increase victims’ and public confidence in the criminal justice system.
Dana Pugach and Michal Tamir
The juxtaposition of two major recent legal developments—the emergence of victims’ rights, and the increasing prevalence of plea bargains in the criminal process—raises profound dilemmas. Ever since the end of the 18th century, criminal proceedings have been conducted by states against defendants, based on the traditional view that crime is an offense against the state. Hence, victims’ participation has been curtailed under different legal systems. In adversarial (Anglo-American) systems, based on common law, the parties dominate the proceeding, and the onus is on the prosecution to prove its case; while in inquisitorial systems (continental), the judge dominates the proceedings, thus reducing the responsibilities of the parties. Although most states display mixed adversarial and inquisitorial characteristics, three systems exemplify different approaches to victims’ rights in plea agreements. The federal US system—the adversarial legal system in which the victim movement began its first steps; the French system—a civil law system, where victims are allocated a formal, albeit limited role; and the Israeli system—a juryless common-law-based system, where professional judges make both legal and evidentiary decisions. In the Anglo-American systems, victims were marginalized, and this lack of standing resulted in one of the more important legal developments of the 20th century—the struggle for victims’ rights. The victims’ movement is a grassroots movement, a social phenomenon that has led to significant legal changes. Consequently, a new perception has seemingly been incorporated into adversarial criminal law systems, whereby victims’ interests should be taken into account. The federal U.S. law enshrined victims’ rights in 2004, and in Israel the major legislation of victims’ rights took place in 2001. In the French system, since the early 20th century, victims have been formally recognized as partie civile—the civil side to the criminal process. The victims have a standing and they can claim compensation. The question of victims’ role in plea agreements is of particular importance, since in recent years, plea agreements have become the rule rather than the exception in Anglo-American criminal proceedings. In 2004, the French law also created a mechanism akin to plea agreements. In the federal U.S. system, victims can express their opinion regarding a plea agreement, and they can apply for a writ of mandamus, should any of their rights be disregarded by the prosecution. Under the Israeli system, victims of severe sexual and violent offenses may speak to the prosecutor and express their views, albeit not in court. In the French system, the victims’ role in plea agreements is limited to claiming compensation. Despite these developments, victims’ rights in plea agreements may still be partial or ineffective. For example, under both U.S. and Israeli law, the victims’ objection to such an agreement may have a very limited effect on the criminal process. Moreover, the prosecution has been granted immunity from any civil lawsuit following infringement upon victims’ rights. Under the French system, the victims’ involvement is limited to an appeal regarding the compensation she has been awarded.
Brett Curry and Banks Miller
The pervasiveness of their influence arguably makes prosecutors the most consequential actors in the American criminal justice system. Armed with discretion over which cases to pursue, what charges to file, and which issue areas to prioritize, prosecutors play a decisive role in determining what progresses from investigation to the courtroom. It is their charge to do justice in each case, but that obligation hardly forecloses the influence of politics on their decisions. Despite their centrality, however, prosecutors and their behavior have failed to garner even a fraction of the attention that scholars have directed toward law enforcement, correctional systems, or judges. The discretion of American prosecutors is theoretically immense; there are few formal constraints upon it. If a federal or state prosecutor declines to pursue a case that has been referred to him or her, that declination decision is essentially immune from judicial review. But these formalisms come with more practical limitations. At the federal level, United States Attorneys are appointed by the president and, therefore, are expected to carry out an administration’s general policy priorities. In the states, most district attorneys answer to the electorate, which imposes its own constraints on a prosecutor’s freedom of action. Chief prosecutors—state and federal—are simultaneously principals to their subordinates and agents of the people or the president. If those considerations were not enough, American prosecutors must be mindful of still other factors. How might their actions today impact their future career paths? What influence might legislative changes, public opinion, or judicial rulings have on how they operate? Scholarship on prosecutors has addressed some of these questions, but we still lack a good understanding of all the ways in which politics infects prosecutorial decision-making. As “progressive prosecutors”—many who are former public defenders—continue to win office, new questions will arise about how far prosecutors can push reform of the criminal justice system. A major looming question is how voters conditioned to law-and-order rhetoric will evaluate the new prosecutors. Some preliminary work shows that non-White prosecutors tend to reduce rates of incarceration, while Republican-affiliated prosecutors increase them.