Clockwork Corporations: A Character Theory of Corporate Punishment

63 Pages Posted: 24 Oct 2017 Last revised: 26 May 2020

Date Written: October 23, 2017


Retribution and deterrence currently drive the politics and scholarship of corporate criminal law. Since the potential harms and private gains of corporate crime are so large, corporate punishment under these theories must be exacting...too exacting. In fact, it is difficult under current law to punish many corporations formally without killing them. Ironically, this fact leads to the under-punishment of corporations. Prosecutors — understandably hesitant to shutter some of the country’s largest economic engines — increasingly offer corporations deferred prosecution agreements in lieu of charges and trial.

This Article considers corporate punishment for the first time from the framework of a third major theory of punishment—character theory. Character theories of punishment focus first and foremost on instilling good character and civic virtue. Criminal law scholars have largely marginalized character theory because it struggles as a suitable framework for individual punishment. But the practical and moral problems character theory faces in the individual context do not arise with the same force for corporations. In fact, character theory offers the possibility of punishing corporations in a way that preserves and enhances the social value they create while removing the structural defects that lead to criminal conduct. Along the way, the Article defends some heterodox proposals, including abolishing the corporate fine and allowing sentencing judges to balance the need to punish against noncriminal aspects of a corporate defendants’ “character.”

Keywords: Corporate Crime, Punishment, Character Theory, Deterrence, Deferred Prosecution Agreement

Suggested Citation

Diamantis, Mihailis, Clockwork Corporations: A Character Theory of Corporate Punishment (October 23, 2017). 103 Iowa L. Rev. 507 (2018), Available at SSRN:

Mihailis Diamantis (Contact Author)

University of Iowa - College of Law ( email )

Boyd Law Building, rm. 442
Iowa City, IA 52242
United States

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics