The Centenary of a Mistake: One Hundred Years of Corporate Criminal Liability

This article argues that there is no justification for corporate criminal liability. First of all, corporations are not moral agents capable of morally praise- or blameworthy action, and hence are not properly subject to punishment. Secondly, criminal punishment of corporations is inappropriate because 1) it advances none of the legitimate purposes of punishment, 2) it creates an unacceptable risk of prosecutorial error or abuse, and 3) it is not necessary to address a public harm. The only purpose served by threatening corporations with criminal punishment is to shift the balance in power between the prosecution and defense in white collar criminal cases radically in favor of the prosecution. However, this is inconsistent with the inherent liberal bias of the criminal law that embodies the normative assessment that an unrestrained government is a greater danger to citizens’ well-being than any number of individual criminals. Corporate criminal liability cannot be theoretically justified because it is directly violative of the theoretical structure of Anglo-American criminal law.