Corporate Criminal Liability and the Potential for Rehabilitation

23 Pages Posted: 24 Sep 2009

See all articles by Peter J. Henning

Peter J. Henning

Wayne State University Law School

Date Written: September 23, 2009


Much has been made about prosecutorial unfairness in treating corporations, that some multibillion dollar enterprises have been bullied by the Department of Justice to cooperate with the government by acknowledging guilt and then turning over records and employee statements regardless of guilt or innocence. Despite the repeated criticisms of corporate criminal liability, it is a staple of the criminal law in the United States, and unlikely to leave the scene any time soon. Indeed, it is growing outside the United States as a means of policing corporate misconduct. In this Essay, I focus on two issues that seem relevant to the current discussion about the scope of corporate criminal liability: first, is there a justification for applying the criminal law to a corporation or other type of business organization? While there is at least the possibility of deterring an individual from undertaking criminal conduct again by imposing punishment on the person, and society can exact retribution from the law-breaker to vindicate its interests and those of the victim, these rationales for punishment do not work well for organizations that do not act through the same individuals and will continue to exist even if individual miscreants are removed. Second, if specific deterrence or retribution are at best weak justifications for punishing corporations, is there a workable rationale for using criminal laws rather than civil regulatory actions against organizations? I argue in this Essay that the current trend toward using deferred prosecution agreements (DPAs) and non-prosecution agreements (NPAs) to resolve criminal investigations of corporations highlight the proper focus on rehabilitation of the organization as the proper goal of the application of the criminal law to corporations.

Keywords: corporate criminal liability, criminal law, white collar crime, punishment

Suggested Citation

Henning, Peter J., Corporate Criminal Liability and the Potential for Rehabilitation (September 23, 2009). American Criminal Law Review, Forthcoming; Wayne State University Law School Research Paper No. 09-21. Available at SSRN:

Peter J. Henning (Contact Author)

Wayne State University Law School ( email )

471 West Palmer Ave.
Detroit, MI 48202
United States

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