“An Overview of the Organizational Guidelines” from the United States Sentencing Commission’s May 2004 release includes the following jaw-dropping statement:
Criminal liability can attach to an organization whenever an employee of the organization commits an act within the apparent scope of his or her employment, even if the employee acted directly contrary to company policy and instructions. An entire organization, despite its best efforts to prevent wrongdoing in its ranks, can still be held criminally liable for any of its employees’ illegal actions.
This is meant to encourage adoption of effective compliance programs in order “to alleviate the harshest aspects of this institutional vulnerability . . . .”
It is also fair warning.
The majority view of the federal courts of appeals which have considered the question have held that a corporation is vicariously criminally liable for the crimes employees commit while acting within the scope of their employment–that is, within their actual or apparent authority and on behalf of the corporation. See Standard Oil Co. v.
Under this view, which constitutes an application of respondeat superior principles to criminal statutes, it may be irrelevant that the employee is not a high managerial official, that the corporation may have specifically instructed the employee not to engage in the proscribed conduct, or that the statute is one that requires willful or knowing violations, rather than one that imposes strict liability. See, e. g., United States v. Hilton Hotels Corp., 467 F.2d 1000 (9th Cir. 1972), cert. denied, 409 U.S. 1125 (1973); Continental Baking Co. v. United States, 281 F.2d 137 (6th Cir. 1960); United States v. Armour & Co., 168 F.2d 342 (3d Cir. 1948); but see Holland Furnace Co. v. United States, 158 F.2d 2 (6th Cir. 1946). The stated rationale is that the criminal statutes impose a duty upon the corporation to prevent its employees from committing the statutory violations.
See Committee Comment to Instruction 5.3, Pattern Criminal Federal Jury Instructions (7th Cir. 1998).
What, then, should corporations do? The “Overview of the Organizational Guidelines” says this:
The [federal sentencing guidelines mitigate] the potential fine range – in some cases up to 95 percent – if an organization can demonstrate that it had put in place an effective compliance program. This mitigating credit under the guidelines is contingent upon prompt reporting to the authorities and the non-involvement of high level personnel in the actual offense conduct.
View “An Overview of the Organizational Guidelines” Here.
View the Seventh Circuit’s Pattern Criminal Federal Jury Instructions Here.