, Volume 26, Issue 1, pp 53-76

Criminalizing white-collar misconduct

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In this article we examine three explanations for the differential treatment of white-collar offenders by the legal system: (1) an organizational advantage argument in which offenders in “organizationally shielded” positions receive more lenient treatment, (2) an alternative sanctions argument in which civil sanctions replace criminal sanctions in the response to white-collar crime, and (3) a system capacity argument in which the legal response to white-collar crime is driven primarily by resources and caseload pressures. These three theoretical arguments are tested through an analysis of data on individuals suspected of having committed serious crimes against savings and loan institutions in the 1980s. We seek to determine the factors that influenced prosecutors to file criminal charges against some of these suspects and not others. We conclude that all three models may be limited in their ability to explain low rates of prosecution in cases involving white-collar crimes of the sort examined here, and suggest that these limitations may have to do with the circumscribed levels of analysis at which these explanations have been pitched.

This research was supported by grant number 90-IJ-CX-0059 from the National Institute of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice. Points of view expressed in this document are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Department of Justice.