Are Generally Lighter Sentences in White Collar Cases Appropriate or Inappropriate?
The coiner of the term "white collar crime" defined it "as a crime committed by a person of respectability and high social status in the course of his occupation,"' but this is not a good definition. The terms "respectability" and "high social status" are ambiguous, and the definition arbitrarily excludes certain white-collar crimes, such as evasion of the personal income tax, which are not committed in the course of one's occupation.
In the modern judicial systems, common sanctions given to white-collar crimes offenders include house arrest, fines and financial penalties, sentences of up to 30 years, and offenders of economic crimes can be sentenced as much as that of offenders for violent street crime. The sentencing guidelines are particularly applied by computing the effects or loss caused by the fraudulent acts. Some of the famous white-collar offenders that were prosecuted were Bernard Ebbers of WorldCom, Jeffrey Skilling of Enron, and John Rigas and son Timothy Rigas of Adelphia. Despite the continuous development of the concept of white-collar crimes, no consensus has been made about a criminology theory that explains white-collar crimes. Experts of the sociology, legal, and criminology areas have clashing theories. The original idea was to give a name to crimes or conspiracies committed by members of wealthy classes who use their influence in commerce and industry for personal gain without being held responsible to the law. Sutherland observed that often times, such cases were held under civil courts because the subjects were the properties lost and not the act itself. Offended parties were only concerned of their lost properties rather than filing a formal case to penalize the offenders. Hence, during these times, the law was rather passive to such contempt. The centers of jurisdiction were the properties lost and neither the offenders nor the act. Seldom were the offenders convicted for this type of crime compared to convicted offenders of lower class crimes such as violent crimes.
Calabresi & Saporito (2012) explains that convicted offenders may serve jail time upon completion of their cases. Sometimes this could range from a few months to several years depending on the extent of offense. The courts could also decide to impose fines for such crimes. A case in point was the payment of a 1-million-dollar fine for fraud by a Wall Street investor. However, this is contingent on how the prosecutor collected the evidence in the first place. Most law enforcement officials rely on wire taps to nub white collar criminals, yet the law limits use of wire taps unless one has probable cause for the commission of a crime. Additionally, the lack of standard definitions of insider trading limits successful prosecution and incarceration of suspects. Most white-collar crimes take the form of insider trading; as a consequence, ambivalent definitions and standards on the same impede law enforcers from taking actions. A lot of dynamics come into play when a judge must decide on the threshold of insider trading that leads to criminal violations. After the 2007-2008 global economic meltdown, many governments realized that white-collar crime could lead to dire consequences. They started looking at companies such as Worldcom and Enron, which failed to nip these problems at the bid (Kaplan, 2013). Therefore, in some countries, white collar crime can elicit sentences that mirror sentences in violent crime. They have created guidelines which judges must use when making sentencing decisions.
All things considered, there are a couple of important policy implications to be drawn from the analysis. First, if fines are more heavily relied upon, the analysis suggests that racial disparities in prison sentences, particularly those between black and whites, might increase. Second, if racial disparities in white-collar sentences and fines are driven partly by income levels and unobserved assets, then a more creative system of fining and ascertaining the ability of offenders to pay fines might actually reduce observed racial disparities. If fines are made proportionate to wealth and a system of payment options is created, prison time may be forgiven in a more equitable fashion.
Calabresi, M. & Saporito, B. (2012). The street fighter. Time, 179(6), 22-27. Web.
Champion, D. (2011). White-collar crimes and organizational offending: An integral approach. International Journal of Business, Humanities and Technology, 1(3), 34-47. Web.
Healy, P. & Ramanna, K. (2013). When the crowd fights corruption. Harvard Business Review, 91(1), 122-128. Web.
Kaplan, D. (2013). The judge who rules on business. Fortune, 167(2), 106. Web.