Corporate criminal liability

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Corporate criminal liability is a subject of United States law where it is ruled that a corporation is a legal entity that may be held criminally liable.

History[edit | edit source]

New York Central[edit | edit source]

The Interstate Commerce Act of 1887 set price controls for railroad companies. A railroad company (New York Central & Hudson River Railroad Co.) was criminally convicted and fined for $108,000 for lowering its shipping prices for one of its commercial clients through a rebate scheme which violated the price control. The landmark Supreme Court case New York Central & Hudson River Railroad Co. v. United States (1909) set the precedent for holding a corporation criminally liable.[1] The railroad company argued that convicting the corporation would harm the shareholders who couldn't defend themselves. The Court ruled that the respondeat superior doctrine from tort law should apply to criminal law.

Critics of the current paradigm of the American legal system holding corporations criminally liable say it is "ipse dixit" meaning because the US courts have said so.


Hilton Hotels 1972[edit | edit source]

In United States v. Hilton Hotels Corp. (1972), the Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit established that a corporation may be held liable even when a rogue employee violates company policy.[2][3] The 9th Circuit judges argued that having a company policy in place as a "window dressing" doesn't suffice.

Arthur Andersen 2005[edit | edit source]

In Arthur Andersen LLP v. United States (2005), the accounting firm had a pyrrhic victory at the Supreme Court. However, more than 28,000 lost their jobs in the US when the company folded with negative media attention. Since, then DoJ prosecutors have been reluctant to prosecute corporations criminally.

References[edit | edit source]