Sociologist and criminology expert Edwin Sutherland first coined this term in a speech that he delivered in 1939. According to Sutherland, someone is more likely to commit a crime when he or she is surrounded by criminal behavior as observed by those around him or her. Sutherland’s belief is that white collar criminals should not be punished as harshly as other criminals. He based this belief on the notion that white collar criminals are typically considered less dangerous. They are believed to be less likely of recidivism. For these reasons, he lobbied for more lenient sentences for individuals convicted of these types of crimes.
Today’s definition includes the traditional definition that incorporates crimes committed by business professionals through their chosen profession. White collar crimes also include fraud and embezzlement. They may include such crimes as wire fraud, mail fraud, insurance fraud, bankruptcy fraud, money laundering and bribery.
Characteristics of White Collar Criminals
This crime is dubbed as white collar due to the professional standing of the perpetrator. These individuals often have a respected position in the community, such as a money manager, financial planner, banker, accountant or similar field.
They often occupy a place of higher socioeconomic status than many criminal defendants. Due to this characteristic, these types of criminals often have the ability to pay more for their defense, which often results in greater outcomes for these defendants than for others who have to rely on overworked public defenders. Having a higher salary and income level often translates into being able to hire the best and most expensive lawyers who will zealously fight for their interests in court. In contrast, individuals who are part of a lower socioeconomic level may not be able to afford a private lawyer and may be appointed a lawyer.
Effects of White Collar Crimes
While white collar crimes may not result in the same type of physical injuries as other crimes may, they may still result in significant consequences. If the money cannot be recovered, a business may go out of business. Employees may be terminated to make up for the loss of business funds. Individuals may lose their life savings because the retirement funds that they had invested were tied up in a Ponzi scheme unbeknownst to them.
Many people believe that white collar crimes should not be punished as harshly as crimes committed by people that involve violence like burglary, mugging or robbery. However, as discussed above, the effects of white collar crimes are real and can be devastating in nature. This means that when white collar criminals are convicted that they often receive sentences as long as the sentences that violent offenders receive. Many drug crimes are prosecuted by federal prosecutors and so are many white collar crimes.
However, one significant difference that may exist between the punishments that white collar criminals receive and others receive is that the white collar criminal may be locked up in minimum-security prisons. In these prisons, criminals may have greater freedoms like access to cable television, the internet and the outside. Criminals in maximum security prisons are often subject to less safe prison environments.
A person’s status in the community and prior criminal record are often considered at sentencing, which may provide a basis to give a white collar criminal less time than a hardened criminal.
Individuals who are charged with white collar crimes may decide to contact a criminal defense lawyer experienced in this area of the law. He or she may be able to explain the defendant’s rights to him or her and get involved in the process well before any formal charges are filed. This may allow a criminal defense lawyer to negotiate an agreement with the prosecutor that may prevent charges from ever being filed, such as allowing the defendant to pay restitution to the victims. The punishments that a white collar criminal defendant can face are substantial. Federal prosecutors are often intimidating. A criminal defense lawyer can help protect the defendant’s rights.