Last term, in the now-infamous Yates case, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected the Department of Justice’s outrageous contention that an undersized Red Grouper thrown overboard by a commercial fisherman in the Gulf of Mexico was a “record, document, or tangible object” under the “anti-shredding” provision of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act. By so doing, the Court prevented a law passed in the wake of corporate accounting scandals at Enron and WorldCom from becoming an all-purpose hammer for prosecutors. Yates quickly became the poster child for the “overcriminalization” phenomenon.
Unfortunately, it appears that DOJ has not learned its lesson. Although the phrase “tangible object” at issue in Yates was overbroad and ambiguous, in other cases the problem of overcriminalization arises when the government seeks to attribute a new, nonobvious meaning to long-understood, perfectly plain statutory language. Nowhere is that problem better epitomized than in the federal government’s utterly bizarre ongoing criminal prosecution of FedEx, which is slated for trial next month in federal court in San Francisco. Continue reading
On Monday, May 2, 2016, Washington Legal Foundation hosted a program in its Media Briefing series entitled Freeing Off-Label Use Information: Three Lingering Questions for Medical-Product Innovators and Regulators. The recording of that program is available below. Also below are links to related materials, including an April 29, 2016 WLF Legal Backgrounder that draws lessons from a medical-device company’s successful defense of a criminal prosecution for alleged off-label promotion.
- Edward Berg, Sanofi US
- John Osborn, Hogan Lovells LLP
- Coleen Klasmeier, Sidley Austin LLP
- Eric Grannon, White & Case LLP (moderator)
The program can also be viewed through WLF’s website—with a higher-quality video and integrated slides—by clicking here.
John Osborn’s Yale Journal article, “Can I Tell You the Truth?”, cited by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in U.S. v. Caronia, is available here.
WLF’s Legal Backgrounder, “The US v. Vascular Solutions Acquittal: Three Lessons for Targets of ‘Off-Label Promotion’ Enforcement,” is available here.
Deferred-prosecution agreements (DPAs) pose thorny questions from an overcriminalization perspective. But DPA skeptics should welcome—at least for now—a decision issued last Tuesday by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit. In a case entitled United States v. Fokker Services B.V., the DC Circuit held that federal district courts may not second-guess the charging decisions of prosecutors under the guise of performing their Speedy Trial Act (STA) duties.
After investigating the defendant company’s self-reporting of potential export control law and federal sanction violations with respect to Iran, Sudan, and Burma, the Department of Justice negotiated an 18-month deferred-prosecution agreement with Fokker. To implement such a DPA the prosecutor formally initiates criminal charges against the defendant based on facts conceded in the agreement. If the defendant meets the preconditions mapped out in the DPA (which generally involve complying with the law and keeping its nose clean), the prosecutor will then dismiss those charges at the conclusion of the deferral period. If, on the other hand, the defendant fails to meet the preconditions at some point along the way, the prosecutor will proceed with its criminal case. Continue reading
America’s highest ranking law-enforcement officer, Attorney General of the United States Loretta Lynch, has gotten directly involved in the debate over the proper standard of criminal intent (known in legalese as mens rea) in federal laws. At a March 9 Senate Judiciary Committee oversight hearing, Attorney General Lynch, while generally cautious in her response to Senators’ questions, endorsed the Department of Justice’s use of strict-liability laws to, among other things, “ensure the safety of our food and drugs.” Attorney General Lynch’s statement reflects the federal government’s long-standing belief that criminal prosecution is an appropriate and effective business regulatory tool. The government’s heavy reliance on regulatory crimes is why the Justice Department and other federal agencies oppose such common-sense reforms as a default culpability standard of “willful” or “reckless” for federal laws that lack an intent requirement. Heightened intent standards would complicate regulation-by-prosecution, an outcome the Obama Administration and some elected officials are desperate to prevent. Continue reading
In 1996, a heavily armed team of EPA criminal investigators raided a facility of Louisiana company Trinity Marine Products, Inc. Three years later, the federal government indicted the company and manager of the raided facility, Hubert Vidrine, for illegally storing hazardous waste without a permit. The U.S. Attorney dismissed the indictment in 2003. On February 8, 2016, 20 years after the EPA raid, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit has cleared the path for the company to at last pursue Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) remedies against the government. As we explained in a WLF Legal Pulse post, Mr. Vidrine, with assistance from WLF attorneys, won a $1.7 million malicious-prosecution claim under the same law in 2011. Continue reading
Cement Creek, Silverton, Colorado
Over the past two weeks, several executives for a now-bankrupt chemical supply company in West Virginia received prison sentences for discharges of a pollutant and for failing to have a pollution-prevention plan. At the same time these developments unfolded, a U.S. House of Representatives committee released a report shedding further light on the role of Environmental Protection Agency employees and contractors in the release of toxic wastewater from a Silverton, Colorado mine on August 5, 2015. The juxtaposition of the two cases amply demonstrates the double standard that prevails where federal government employees evade accountability for their actions while demanding full environmental compliance from everyone else. Continue reading
Fair 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