Frequently Asked Questions about White Collar Crime
Q: What is white collar crime?
A: White collar crime is a term used to describe criminal conduct involving illegal acts that use deceit and concealment to obtain money, property or services, or to secure a business or professional advantage. Another way to define white collar crime is as a “paper” crime or crime that is committed in the workplace in white collar industries as opposed to blue collar industries. White collar crimes are usually not violent, but their effects can be just as devastating.
Q: Who prosecutes white collar crimes?
A: White collar crimes may be either state or federal crimes. Because they often involve lengthy investigations that can cross state and international boundaries, the federal government is usually in a better position to investigate and prosecute white collar crimes. Usually a federal prosecutor, known as an Assistant United States Attorney (AUSA), will head up the prosecution.
Q: What is a grand jury?
A: A grand jury is a group of individuals tasked with gathering information about suspected criminal activity by listening to testimony from witnesses and examining documents and other evidence. The prosecutor acts as legal advisor to the grand jury and directs the flow of witnesses and evidence. At the end of the proceeding, the grand jury decides whether there is enough evidence to indict the defendant for the crime.
Q: Are defendants in white collar crime cases treated any differently than other defendants?
A: The courts try to treat white collar defendants no differently than other defendants. There may be a suspicion that white collar defendants receive preferential treatment, especially regarding plea bargaining, terms of pretrial release and sentencing. It is important to remember, however, that white collar crimes, while very serious, usually do not involve physical violence, and are not crimes that are committed easily.
The concerns that a court might have when deciding whether to release a defendant before trial, or deciding where to place a defendant to serve a jail sentence, are not the same for a white collar defendant as they would be for a defendant charged with a violent crime. Furthermore, many white collar cases depend on the cooperation of one or more defendants. A plea bargain for one defendant that seems unduly lenient may be the only way the government has of pursuing a case against a defendant guilty of far more serious crimes.
Q: How does the prosecutor decide which cases to pursue?
A: The first thing the prosecutor looks for is a legally sound case, or one without any obvious defects that will get it thrown out of court, such as violations of the defendant’s constitutional rights or destruction of evidence crucial to the defense. The prosecutor next decides if there is enough evidence, with regard to both the quantity and the quality thereof, to make conviction probable. Finally, the prosecutor decides if prosecuting the case fits in with the office’s policy objectives, or whether a more informal disposition such as pre-trial diversion may be a better option.
Q: What is restitution?
A: Restitution involves ordering the defendant to pay the victim a sum of money designed to compensate the victim for the monetary costs of the crime. Some individuals convicted of white collar crimes are also required to pay fines. The federal Mandatory Victims’ Restitution Act of 1996 (MVRA) provides that victims of certain crimes may be entitled to an order of restitution for certain losses suffered as a direct result of a crime for which the defendant was convicted. 18 U.S.C. § 3663A. Many state and federal laws also require a criminal offender to make restitution to the victim, and the court will order restitution under those laws when the offender is sentenced.
Q: What is forfeiture?
A: Though criminal forfeiture laws vary from state to state, generally, the government may seek criminal forfeiture when the property is used in the commission of a criminal offense, or was obtained through criminal activity. For example, the government may ask the court to allow it to seize an automobile purchased by a defendant with the proceeds of an insider trading scheme. The government also may seek forfeiture of money or bank accounts if it proves that the money was used in the commission of a crime or is the proceeds of a crime.
Q: Will I be able to find a job after being convicted of a white collar crime?
A: Finding a job after a conviction for a white collar crime may be difficult. Many white collar crimes involve fraud and dishonesty, and employers may worry about hiring a person with a criminal conviction for fear of similar conduct occurring in the future. In addition, some employers may worry about having to disclose the fact that they hired an employee with a criminal record to shareholders or in various documents.
Q: Do I need a lawyer to represent me even if I am innocent?
A: Every criminal defendant needs an attorney. Innocent defendants are perhaps in even greater need of zealous representation throughout the criminal process to ensure that their rights are protected and that the truth prevails.
Q: If I simply intend to plead guilty, why do I need a lawyer?
A: You may not understand the full implications of the crime with which you are charged. Even if you are guilty of the crime with which you are charged, the advice of experienced counsel may be able to minimize your sentence and maximize your opportunities to move on with your life. Criminal defense attorneys are needed to equalize the balance of power between the defendant and the prosecution and to ensure that the constitutional rights that are guaranteed to all criminal defendants, whether guilty or not, are preserved.