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Sentencing guidelines for white-collar crimes under review

When it comes to so-called “white-collar” crimes, determining appropriate sentences for convicted offenders can be difficult. Say, for example, that an individual sets up hacking software that steals just $1, but steals that small amount from a million people. Does this person deserve a harsher or lighter sentence than someone who steals $1 million from a single person?

Should sentencing be based on the impact to victims or simply on total financial losses as a result of the crime? Current sentencing guidelines for federal financial crimes are based primarily on the latter. That could soon change, however.

In July, we wrote that the U.S. Sentencing Commission recommended reducing sentence ranges for non-violent drug crimes. The commission is currently considering whether it will do the same for white collar crimes, including insider trading, embezzlement and fraud.

These changes could be hard to sell to the American public, which already tends to believe that those who commit large-scale financial crimes only receive a slap on the wrist. But perhaps the commission will consider a proposal made in 2013 by an American Bar Association task force.

The task force recommended that rather than basing sentences on total financial losses, they should be based on factors including:

  • The defendant’s perceived motives
  • How sophisticated and long-running the crime was
  • Whether the defendant merely intended to benefit financially from the crime or actually did benefit
  • Whether the defendant was a high-level player in a scheme or had only a minimal role

As we mentioned above, it is not always easy to reach a consensus on appropriate sentences for certain crimes, and white-collar crimes tend to be particularly complicated. Hopefully, the Sentencing Commission will seek ways to get smart on crime rather than just “tough on crime.”

Source: Bloomberg Businessweek, “Lighter sentences sought for some business crimes,” Eric Tucker, Aug. 13, 2014

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Meet Attorney Guillory

Attorney Joshua S. Guillory was born in Alexandria, Louisiana. Upon graduating high school from Alexandria Senior High, he enrolled in classes at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette where he earned his Bachelor of Science degree. Josh was a member of Mu Kappa Tau, a national honor society for marketing majors, while attending... Read More

Joshua S. Guillory

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