Federal Officials Display Disregard for Due Process in Opposing “Mens Rea” Reform

barsFair notice of the law is a basic principle that separates liberal democracies like the United States from more authoritarian governments. Fair notice is an especially critical due-process check against government’s power to criminally prosecute. Government must not only prove that a person did the unlawful act, but also that he intentionally engaged in wrongful conduct or knew the conduct was illegal—that it, that he had a guilty mind. So why, then, is the Obama Administration and other elected representatives opposing reforms to ensure that federal criminal laws include a clear criminal-intent standard?

The idea being advanced seems far from revolutionary or controversial, which may explain why politicians and interest groups of every ideological stripe support it: Federal laws with criminal provisions must require prosecutors to prove that the accused possessed the mens rea, or culpable mental state, to commit a crime. If a law lacks such language, then a default intent provision will apply, such as showing that the defendant acted “willfully” or “recklessly.” Continue reading

U.S. v. Clay: A Federal White Collar Criminal Case to Keep an Eye On

matt_kaiser300Guest Commentary

Matthew G. Kaiser, Partner, Kaiser, LeGrand & Dillon PLLC

A court case that should be on the radar screen of all business executives and white-collar criminal-defense attorneys in 2016 is United States v. Clay, in which the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit heard oral argument on October 2.

The case, about which I authored a Washington Legal Foundation Legal Backgrounder last March, implicates the fundamental question of who decides the meaning of a law—a judge or a jury? The Eleventh Circuit will also implicitly decide whether the government can cast aside more appropriate civil or administrative remedies and prosecute corporate officers operating a business in a complex regulatory environment when their interpretation of a law is objectively reasonable. Continue reading

WLF Overcriminalization Timeline: EPA Criminal Enforcement Policies

Hartman_BarryGuest Commentary

Barry M. Hartman, K&L Gates LLP*

Editor’s Note: This is the sixth in a series of guest commentary posts that address the six distinct topic areas covered in Washington Legal Foundation’s recently released Timeline: Federal Erosion of Business Civil Liberties. To read the other posts in this series, click here.

The WLF Timeline notes that in 2005, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) started co-locating its civil and criminal offices; it turns out this was just the tip of the iceberg.  There has been a long pattern of convergence of criminal and civil environmental enforcement at EPA, jointly with the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Environmental Division.  When the difference between a criminal and regulatory offense—the “knowledge” or “scienter” requirement—was clear, a company knew what the stakes were if it was being investigated civilly.  But over the last 25 years, the continuing relaxation of the “scienter” requirement in the environmental arena has blurred that distinction, so that the only articulation an EPA or DOJ lawyer will typically give to that standard is, “I know it when I see it,” allowing the government to use criminal sanctions where administrative or civil penalties would be more appropriate. Continue reading

WLF Overcriminalization Timeline: Deferred-Prosecution and Non-Prosecution Agreements

Whitley,Joe_CLRwebGuest Commentary

Joe D. Whitley, Shareholder, Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz, PC*

Editor’s Note: This is the fourth in a series of six guest commentary posts that will address the six distinct topic areas covered in Washington Legal Foundation’s recently released Timeline: Federal Erosion of Business Civil Liberties. To read the other posts in this series, click here.

Over the past 15 years, Deferred-Prosecution Agreements (DPA) and Non-Prosecution Agreements (NPA) have become a vehicle of choice for resolving complex criminal investigations. This progression is chronicled in the Washington Legal Foundation’s (WLF) “The Federal Erosion of Business Civil Liberties” Timeline. It is commonly believed that DPAs and NPAs are useful tools for prosecutors in investigations of corporations where prosecutors can find no corporate executive directly culpable for any alleged misconduct. DPAs and NPAs permit the Department of Justice to enter into agreements totally outside of courts’ jurisdiction. Continue reading

WLF Overcriminalization Timeline: DOJ Criminal Prosecution Policies

Volkov,_Michael-1R-COLGuest Commentary

Michael Volkov, CEO and owner, Volkov Law Group LLC*

Editor’s Note: This is the third in a series of six guest commentary posts that will address the six distinct topic areas covered in Washington Legal Foundation’s recently released Timeline: Federal Erosion of Business Civil Liberties. To read the other posts in this series, click here.

Over the last thirty years, the U. S. Department of Justice has dramatically expanded criminal prosecutions of corporations and individuals, relying on a steady litany of so-called criminal-prosecution policies. Underlying each of these policies are two significant purposes: (1) to replace prior civil and regulatory enforcement with “new” criminal prosecution tools and (2) to provide criminal prosecutors with ever-increasing leverage over companies and individuals to extract criminal fines and pleas. Continue reading

WLF Overcriminalization Timeline: Mens Rea, Public Welfare Offenses, and Responsible Corporate Officer Doctrine

matt_kaiser300Guest Commentary

Matthew G. Kaiser, Partner, Kaiser, LeGrand & Dillon PLLC

Editor’s Note: This is the second in a series of six guest commentary posts that will address the six distinct topic areas covered in Washington Legal Foundation’s recently released Timeline: Federal Erosion of Business Civil Liberties. To read the other posts in this series, click here.

To commit a crime, normally you have to have met two requirements. First, you have to have done something bad. Second, you have to have done the bad thing with a bad intent.

Take mortgage fraud. If you write on your mortgage application that you earn $1,000,000 a year, but you only earn $100,000, you’ve committed mortgage fraud if that’s what you intended to submit and you knew it was false. If, though, you’re using an online application and the “0” key on your keyboard was stuck so an extra zero appeared, you haven’t committed mortgage fraud, you’ve just made a mistake; you have no bad intent. Continue reading

WLF Overcriminalization Timeline: Proliferation of Criminal Laws/Sentencing Developments

DDebold-pressGuest Commentary

David Debold, Partner, Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP

Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of six guest commentary posts that will address the six distinct topic areas covered in Washington Legal Foundation’s recently released Timeline: Federal Erosion of Business Civil Liberties.

Two developments identified in WLF’s helpful Timeline—the proliferation of new criminal laws affecting businesses, and the evolution of federal sentencing law over time—would be topics of significant interest if either had unfolded without the other. The combination of the two, however, has posed a serious threat to the civil liberties of the American business community. Not only have vastly greater categories of conduct become eligible for criminal prosecution, the stakes in such prosecutions—for businesses, their owners, and their leadership—have increased substantially. As a result, conduct that had long been either lawful or merely the basis for a civil or administrative proceeding can now trigger a criminal investigation and prosecution ending with very substantial fines and lengthy prison terms. Continue reading