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White Collar Crime - What is it? How does it work?


Domina Law Group pc llo's white collar criminal defense work is varied and significant. Our work has ranged from executives charged with homicide to theft of government property, white collar conspiracy, tax evasion, false claims, bank fraud, wire and mail fraud, securities fraud (including stocks and commodities), arson, and insurance fraud.

The term "white collar crime" is used to refer to a category of illegal or deviant conduct. Sociologists and criminologists do not necessarily agree about what the term means. "White collar crime" has been called "fundamentally awkward," as a descriptive term, but it persists, proliferates, and enjoys acceptance though it lacks a genuine definition.

Seventy (70) years ago, American criminologist Edwin Sutherland used the term "white collar crime" in a presentation to the American Sociological Association.

"White collar" in connection with "crime" is a phrase that draws attention to the characteristics of a person or entity, focus on the qualities of the offender and not the offense, and result in some adverse branding at the time criminal proceedings commence.

Hundreds of law firms and thousands of lawyers now hold themselves out as "specialists" in "white collar" criminal defense work. It seems extremely likely the vast majority have never tried a white collar criminal case.

On the other hand, the prosecutorial function recognizes the value of experience in litigation. A significant number of federal prosecutors have, in fact, developed an expertise, and a specialization, in the white collar criminal area.

Who are White Collar Criminal Defense Lawyers?

Lawyers in big law firms and little ones hold themselves out as criminal defense lawyers. Some emphasize expertise in representing individual or corporate defendants in criminal cases. Others highlight corporate compliance programs and conducting internal investigations. Most claim expertise in complex procedural and evidentiary issues. Lawyers with great reputations at handling criminal cases in a particular locale may actually have little or no experience at dealing with the complex intricacies of white collar crime. They may choose, instead, a blustering defense practice, witty negotiations with a prosecutor, and deal making in the form of plea bargaining, to achieve middling outcomes, increasing the numbers of criminal cases they have handled, but not providing prosecution-avoiding services as frequently as could be done with more effort and focus.

Criminal defense work includes negotiations, a sense of a case's timing and rhythm, and an absolute focus on the charges, their strengths, and their weaknesses, as an aid to understanding one's self well enough to take steps necessary to achieve an optimum result. Often, the optimum result for a person targeted in a white collar investigation is the one that gets the least attention – no fanfare and avoidance of indictment through intelligent pre-indictment work.

What Can be Done?

Most important steps occur at the earliest stages of criminal investigations. At once, is the time to act thoughtfully, and with significant energy. First and foremost, the client needs to choose someone to talk to in confidence—even if not ultimately the lawyer who might become responsible for the case in the courtroom during trial, if necessary.

Choosing a lawyer gives a client a way to talk and gives protection from the government's eyes from what is said between the client under investigation and the lawyer engaged to help. In most states there is no privilege for communication between a client and an accountant unless the accountant is helping the lawyer with a criminal defense. The target of the investigation must react in kind to the risk posed and must not delay or look for comfort in known relationships. Early, an effort should be made by the engaged lawyer to identify the potential crimes, summarize them and their elements of proof, research the law and prepare a memorandum for the clients about what crimes exist which may be of concern, their elements of proof, their defenses or special defenses, and their weaknesses.

This work should include comprehensive review of the history of the legal concern. If tax returns are involved, they must be reviewed, and reevaluated by a new accounting firm. The new firm must be given a careful charge by the lawyer, or the client through the lawyer in some rare circumstances.

Sentences and potential outcomes should be explored. The abstraction of what could happen should be diminished, even if it is succeeded by an unpleasant reality. The client should know what might happen – both emotionally in general terms and legally. This process must involve realistic teaching, perhaps an example of federal sentencing guidelines, and an understanding of what can influence the court, ultimately, toward a beneficial outcome even in a bad setting.

The client's activity must be understood. Its weaknesses must be accepted, understood, and dealt with. This may mean the client must be told how bad things can be, and work backwards to how the worst can be avoided. Caution about denial, avoidance, indecision, and wrong decisions, must all be considered.

Strategic Decisions

Strategic decisions about evidence gathering, witnesses, avoidance of any appearance of evidence destruction, altering, or witness tampering, acceptance of bad facts and efforts to ameliorate them to the extent possible, should all be considered. An early understanding of the risks and benefits of approaches to defense must be made. Early assessment and full client disclosure are essential. Only intense early effort can maximize prospects for success by either avoiding indictment, or achieving acquittal.

White collar criminal defense is unlike civil practice. It is unlike other areas of criminal defense.

A successful white collar criminal defense lawyer must have the gift of instilling confidence while insisting the client listen and follow through. White collar criminal defense is nerve-wracking, demanding, and difficult. If courtroom drama must occur, preparation will produce it. If it can be avoided, preparation will do that, too.

Domina Law Group pc llo's white collar criminal defense activities, and the broad range they cover, have allow the firm to understand that care for a prominent person who is targeted in a criminal investigation, includes ministry to the person's family, attention to the target's mental health and stability, and aggressive, pro-active legal counseling about what can, and what must not, be done with personal or business books, records of account, historical activities, and lifestyles.

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