The most frightening part of being a defendant in a white collar criminal case - or any criminal case - is the potential penalties if convicted. Most white collar defendants have no prior experience with the criminal justice system, and the uncertainty of their future looms understandably large in their minds. In addition to criminal penalties, many white collar offenses may give rise to civil lawsuits, brought either by the federal or state government, or by the victims of the offense. Any civil liability imposed as a result of these suits is in addition to, and not a substitute for, the penalties imposed in the criminal case. A white collar defense attorney can give you specific information on the possible penalties in your particular case. Call today to schedule a consultation.
The criminal penalties for white collar crimes vary. Most of the laws authorize a monetary fine, a prison sentence or a combination of the two. The criminal laws authorize maximum penalties, which are often quite severe. Most defendants, however, receive less than the maximum sentence. Courts often follow sentencing guidelines, which may vary depending on the jurisdiction. These guidelines are meant to ensure that criminal sentences are uniform, so the sentencing judge is often given very little discretion on the sentence imposed. The guidelines take into account the crime for which the defendant has been convicted, and any prior criminal record of the defendant. In some cases, the court may consider factors that will allow it to depart, or impose a sentence different from the sentence required by the guidelines.
Defendants without a significant criminal record may be sentenced to probation, a suspended jail sentence or a jail sentence far shorter than the maximum. They may have fines levied against them, and may be required to forfeit any profits or pay restitution to their victims.
The "easy time" myth
There is a common belief among many members of the public that defendants convicted of white collar crime get to do "easy time" in comfortable, minimum-security institutions. This is a myth.
While many sentences for white collar crimes are served in minimum-security institutions, there is no guarantee that this will happen. The decision on where a person convicted of a crime serves his or her sentence is usually a matter left to the discretion of the correctional authorities (in the federal system, this is the Federal Bureau of Prisons). While efforts are made to place prisoners in an appropriate facility, there is no certainty that a white collar defendant will always be in a minimum-security prison.
A civil case that arises out of a white collar criminal prosecution could be brought by the government, by the victims of the crime or by both.
A civil action brought by the government might seek disgorgement, or turning over to the government, any profits obtained because of the crime, restitution or repayment, to the victims of the offense or other damages that may be provided by law. In some cases, the government may be able to seek asset forfeiture, which means that anything purchased with the proceeds of the offense would be seized by the government.
Victims of white collar crimes may choose to bring their own civil actions. These actions would seek to recover for any financial losses suffered because of the offense.
Employment and social consequences
In addition to criminal and civil penalties, a person who is convicted of a white collar crime may have difficulty finding employment and face social stigma. Because so many white collar crimes involve deceit or dishonesty, employers may be reluctant to hire an individual who has been convicted of such a crime. In addition, a criminal conviction may prevent a person from obtaining a professional license or be cause for losing such a license.
Further, if a non-United States citizen is convicted of a crime, he or she may face removal and other immigration issues. For example, if a lawful permanent resident, who is lawfully living and working in the United States on a work visa, is convicted of a white collar crime, he or she may be removed. In addition to removal, a conviction may adversely affect a lawful permanent resident's ability to become a United States citizen.
Speak to a criminal defense lawyer
The potential for civil liability in addition to criminal liability is an added, troublesome factor to consider when preparing to defend a white collar criminal prosecution. It is important to consult with an experienced attorney who has experience with criminal and civil white collar actions to learn more about potential liability.