With true crime documentaries and fictional crime dramas having a major pop culture moment, many criminal defenses and sentences are common knowledge for anyone with access to a television. But what about defenses and sentences concerning white collar crimes, the ones you won't see on Law and Order? Those are a little less well known. While white collar crime might not make for a riveting TV plot, the stakes feel very real when your name and business reputation are on the line. Here's a simple beginners guide to common white collar crime defense tactics and sentences.
Common White Collar Crime Defenses
Some of the most common white collar crimes are embezzlement, fraud, money laundering, computer/internet crimes and tax evasion. Each case's unique circumstances will affect the criminal defense team's strategy. That being said, some defenses are more common than others in white collar crime cases. When working with white collar criminal attorneys, you will commonly see defense strategies such as:
- Lack of Intent: Many white collar criminal charges require prosecutors to prove criminal intent. Say someone makes a large mistake on their tax filing, but that mistake was clearly unintentional. This could be an instance of a lack of intent and thus a defense to an allegation of tax fraud.
- Entrapment: This is one of the most common white-collar defenses. Often, when law enforcement suspects an individual or group of individuals of criminal activity, they will attempt to set up a sting operation to catch the suspect red-handed. This is a common tactic. However, if the defense team can prove that the officers or informants involved induced the criminal activity through their behavior, then that is considered entrapment. This can be a difficult defense strategy, as the criminal defense lawyer will need to show that the will of the defendant was overborne such that they would not have commited the crime but for the actions of law enforcement, or that a normally law-abiding person would have been induced to commit the crime.
- Non-Fraudulent Statements: If the defendant is being accused of giving fraudulent information to an accusing party, the defendant may be able to prove that the accusing party acted unreasonably simply because of an opinion expressed by the defendant. The defendant made a non-fraudulent statement that the accuser mistook for fraud when it didn't benefit them.
- Incapacity: If the defendant had the inability, due to either physical or mental incapacity, to understand or comprehend the nature of the alleged criminal acts, then their criminal defense lawyer may be able to assert the defense of incapacity.
- Intoxication: In some cases, proving intoxication at the time of the accused crime means the defendant was presumably not in full control of his or her actions. Defendants who can show that they were intoxicated at the time of the offense can sometimes assert this as a complete defense to the charges, but more often can use this information to bargain for a lesser offense or sentence.
- Plea Agreements: When the evidence against a defendant is overwhelming, we will attempt to negotiate a plea agreement. In this arrangement, the defendant agrees to plead guilty -- usually to lesser charges -- to avoid a trial. If the defense can show that their client has fully cooperated with the authorities, they may receive a lighter sentence.
Common Sentences and Punishments
While white collar crimes don't often involve physical harm done to a person or people, they can result in major financial harm to businesses, families, and individuals. Juries and courts take the harm resulting from the crime into account when sentencing someone convicted of a white collar crime. The severity (e.g. length of sentence and/or amount of restitution in the form of money or property) depends on the individual case, but here are some typical punishments following a white collar crime conviction:
- Prison sentence
- Probation, or supervised release
- House arrest/electronic monitoring
- Forfeiture of assets, where the defendant gives up a portion of their personal money or property
- Restitution, where the defendant pays back money that was taken from another person or business
To reiterate, all defenses and sentences are completely dependent on the individual facts and circumstances of each case. The defenses and possible sentences listed here are simply some of the common ones you will find among white collar crime cases. Remember to contact a trusted defense attorney immediately if you are ever suspected of a white collar crime such as embezzlement, wire fraud, money laundering or tax evasion. Acting quickly to defend yourself can mean the difference between conviction and innocence and incarceration and freedom.