• The Heritage Network
    • Resize:
    • A
    • A
    • A
  • Donate
  • Progressives Want to Send Innocent People to Jail…to Set an Example?

    Should society throw people into jail who admittedly did nothing blameworthy just to set an example for others? That is exactly what the Center for Progressive Reform has suggested doing in a recent report on the Occupational Safety and Health Act.

    In criminal law, the Supreme Court has embraced what is known as the “responsible corporate officer” doctrine, or, as it sometimes is called, the Park doctrine, after the 1975 Supreme Court case that embraced it. Under this doctrine, a corporate officer is personally criminally liable for the actions of his or her employees, regardless of whether the corporate officer knew or should have known of the criminal conduct. The responsible corporate officer doctrine creates a strict liability offense, where the only requirement to convict is that the corporate officer had authority to exercise control over the activity.

    In United States v. Park, the FDA prosecuted the president of a corporation under the theory that subordinates committed violations of the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act that he had the ability to prevent or correct. Park, the company president, had delegated responsibility to correct the violations to one of his employees, who, unfortunately for Park, did not carry through on his responsibilities. Park therefore was convicted for FDA violations that he did not commit, order committed, or conspire to commit.

    At trial, all the government needed to prove was that Park was the president of the corporation and could have prevented the violation. The government did not need to prove that Park acted irresponsibly or even negligently. The Supreme Court, relying on some early 20th century precedents, upheld Park’s conviction by invoking the responsible corporate officer doctrine.

    Who would be in favor of such an unjust rule that places innocent people in jail, separates families, and ruins careers? Professor Thomas McGarity from the Center for Progressive Reform answers that question. In a recent interview where he argued in favor of a more aggressive application of the responsible corporate officer doctrine, McGarity stated:

    I think once Obama wins this election, it will be time for progressives to put a great deal of pressure on Obama to do things progressively. I don’t think he will be able to ignore us if he wins this election…You make an example of a few scofflaw employers. You would go after not just the [sic] the corporation, but the corporate official and you would put him in jail.

    The criminal justice system is in place to deter and punish morally culpable behavior. The responsible corporate officer doctrine does neither. It punishes people with the weight of the criminal law for the position that they hold within an organization. Under the common law, a cornerstone of the criminal law is that the government, in addition to proving that a person committed an unlawful act, is required to prove that the accused intended to commit the crime.

    The responsible corporate officer doctrine transforms all corporate crime requiring negligence into strict liability offenses; meaning, there is no intent requirement. If there were proof that a corporate officer knew or acquiesced to criminal conduct, the government wouldn’t need to rely on the responsible corporate officer doctrine to convict him.

    Further, the person who is strictly liable is not the person who acted unlawfully. It is impractical for a corporate officer to handle the responsibilities of all his employees. If a corporate officer is capable of handling all of those responsibilities himself, why would he need employees at all?

    The responsible corporate officer doctrine turns the job of a corporate officer into a gamble. Corporate officers have to bet their freedom that employees will perform their duties lawfully in an environment of thousands of regulations. A loss on that bet could land them in prison. There are ways to promote workplace safety without throwing blameless men and women in prison. Rather than expanding the use of the responsible corporate officer doctrine, justice requires that it should be done away with.

    Posted in Legal [slideshow_deploy]

    40 Responses to Progressives Want to Send Innocent People to Jail…to Set an Example?

    1. Excellent article.

      When law like this is sustained, it puts power into the hands of government that the Constitution was specifically written to prevent.

      No person should be punished for acts committed by others without a legal requirement to prove complicity, conspiracy, or some type of coercion on the part of the accused.

      • Mary Crum says:

        I agree with the above statement. However, if this law holds then Obama should be subjected to it. The buck stops with him.

      • Diane says:

        On the other hand, wouldn't this apply to AJ Holder? It seems he never knows what people under him are doing.

      • They are guilty. Policy is set from the top down. Supervisors could in now way get away with safety violations etc. if was not backed up by the top. Supervisors are given bonuses based on the money they save for the corporation. In terms of safety if violations are found and not corrected they save money for the corporation.

        The CEO gets millions of dollars and bonuses each year . They readily say they rightly should get these bonuses because they are in charge. Are they or not in charge, or only if to their benefit.
        Corporations give charity by taking away their employees Christmas bonuses, lowering benefits and firing top wage earners with low wage earner.
        They are not innocent victims. THEY ARE GUILTY!

    2. Excellent article.

      These types of judicial decisions are legally irresponsible and are contradictory of the moral principles of individual responsibility upon which justice relies.

      Frankly, the decision violates the seminal principles upon which the Constitution is based. The government cannot take away the liberty of a US citizen without a proof of just cause. Just cause does not include criminal acts committed by others unless the government can prove complicity, conspiracy, collusion, or coercion on the part of the accused.

      The Supreme Court is blatantly wrong with this decision. The danger of this decision is the door it opens for using the precedence to purposely frame executives for illegal or wrongful acts committed by others.

    3. Vizsla1086 says:

      I'm not sure it's so simple. Personal accountability is at the heart of law and of civics. Given a context of corporate evasiviness and possible criminal activity (Financial crash of 2008, BP Gulf of Mexico Disaster etc. et al) how do conservatives address these issues other than by personal accountability?

      Actually, it "ain't" that hard, and people will accept responsibility because they want the advancement. Those who are leary probably shouldn't apply. If the executive in charge insn't responsible, who would be?

      • Philosophy101 says:

        Gee, maybe the person committing the offense should be responsible – a mind-boggling concept…

      • Two Sheds says:

        The problem here is strict liability. There is no innocence until proven guilty. Strict Liability turns due process on its head. There is no problem with finding somebody negligent, but when the accused has to prove their innocence instead of the government proving their guilt we have a problem. In some of these cases, the regulatory agency finds you guilty period. There is no trial.

      • freespeech says:

        Given that argument, one must conclude that Obama, as Commander-in-Chief, should be sentenced to prison for any criminal conduct of servicemembers. Those who tortured prisoners, urinated on dead bodies, or committed atrocities? Obama is responsible and must be held personally liable, serving his sentence right alongside those who committed the acts.

    4. micwi says:

      The mentality of progressives. Scary. When I read articles like this, it make me think of the iron curtain days. Do we have an invisible iron curtain waiting to be put around us by the progressives? These are evil plans.

    5. Semaj says:

      Could the same law be applied to Obama when someone in the government does something wrong?

      • Marty says:

        Good point. How is it that the Park Doctrine is applicable to Corporate officers but not Eric Holder for the Fast and Furious gun running and hundreds of (Mexican) deaths plus our border agent given that "… the only requirement to convict is that the corporate officer had authority to exercise control over the activity?"

    6. Briggs Phariss says:

      Makes one wonder how men of such a high level of intelligence, learning and status in life could, as members of the highest court of law in this nation, could ever come to such a conclusion. WISDOM was apparantly absent from their midst that day.

    7. This is the power of laws being used to finally destroy the American economic engine. Who would want to run a company if they had to risk their personal freedom for this.

    8. Tom Marchini says:

      Under this thought process why don't we jail parents for crimes committed by their children who are under 21 years old?

    9. How about we apply that law to the government, maybe they would have a change of opinion then.

    10. Joe Schweitzer says:

      So, if we carry this to it conclusion, if a child commits a crime, the parents go to jail?

    11. A Trivette says:

      Then they should insist on Obama being punished for Kathleen Sebilius violating the Hatch Act.

    12. Jerry says:

      So under this doctrine will administration officials also be put away for their underlings gun running in mexico and death of border agents as a result?

    13. Mary Ann says:

      Wow. That's frightening.

      The only lesson learned here is to not become a corporate officer.

    14. This law would extend to the White House, correct?

    15. If that is correct, it should apply to the President of the United States as well. He should be held responsible for the acts of all Congress members, Supreme Court members, and their staff members. I'd dare to bet even Obama would think twice before enacting this law then.

      • Sharon Morgensen says:

        Just add the military, GSA, Fast and Furious, State Departments, embassies….all the mistakes of everyone in government would hold the President responsible: remember "The Buck Stops Here." That would keep Obama on his toes!

    16. patti says:

      This is an example of another bad law created by lawyers to keep our American courts full of liability suits, which keep our lawyers in business . Our liability lawsuits are an epidemic and because lawyers are our government leaders, they refuse tort reform or anything that might alter our grossly litigical society. Our prisons should exclusively house violent criminals. Fines and community service for everyone else. If we purged our prisons, we'd probably save enough to pay a good chunk of the Debt. If our country upholds an individual's right of expression and free will, individuals should be held solely responsible for their actions. Not their employers or their mothers or anyone else. The lawyer who came up with the legislation in this article should be disbarred.

    17. P Walker says:

      Do these rulings and precedents apply to government entities? Is the American President "CEO" of all government employees? Hmm!

    18. klee says:

      So under this law, President Obama should go to jail for the crimes of his staff? Cool.

    19. Jennifer says:

      Perhaps we should hold POTUS responsible for the criminal acts of anyone within his administration?

    20. julie says:

      Apart from constitutionality, there are a lot of bank officers and others who would be behind bars right now.

    21. Wasn't this the basis for every "Law and Order" episode for the last five years?

    22. cathy Ward says:

      So, is Obama then responsible for the lack of enforcement on illegal immigration? Can we prosecute him?

    23. Erwin Brady says:

      Here we go again, liberal agenda at all cost to what America stands for!

    24. Michael Ejercito says:

      So if a soldier violates the UCMJ, the President, as commander-in-chief, would be the “responsible corporate officer”.

    25. Hong Leiming says:

      This ruling is unfair and unjust because the innocent person is deprived of due process under the Constitution. American law has always been you are presumed innocent until proven guilty. Why go back to the Middle Ages when people in Europe were considered guilty until proven innocent? In 20th century China the head of household, usually the father, was responsible for the acts committed by any member of his family whether he knew it or not. The individual who breaks the law should be punished. Not his boss, supervisor, or superior.

    26. Bart Walters says:

      Only a select companies need to be concerned about this. Bankster need not to worry.

    27. J.M.F says:

      Progressives just another word for communism and tyrranical dictatorship….No longer a Free and prosperous country just another under their thumb mentality…This is the most dangerous time for the free world…Kruchev said in the 60's when pounding his shoe on the podeum….We will bury you not from outside for you are to strong..We will bury you from the inside and before you know it we will be in power over you……

    28. Jeanette says:

      Outrageous, and so like the progressives!! But wait, does this mean Eric Holder can be thrown in prison?

    29. larry says:

      Doesn't this mean that Eric Holder should be convicted for Fast and Furious? He is the top dog and the people being "offeredup" work for him.

    30. The courts of this country are laughable. The judges have too much latitude in making their decisions.
      A prime example is California's 9th circut court, they continually overstep the rule of law and make their own!
      They have more decisions overturned than any court is this country! That court is stacked with liberal, progressive activist judges! Progressives want to control the country through the courts! Our Supreme Court has allready been infiltrated by two new progressive justices!
      They've taken a lesson from the movie, Devil's Advocate.
      Don't want to go to jail for saying Obama is an idiot, then you had better take more intrest in what judges, are
      on the bench in your state!

    31. Phil Keat says:

      If the responsible corporate officer doctrine is expanded for business, then it certainly should be for government officials as well. Eric Holder would be convicted for murder due to Fast and Furious. That's why in one respect I'd love to see it happen.

    32. Florida Jim says:

      Obama is being vetted 4 years too late but it is happening with these videos and movies:"2016", search exposing Obama lies and there you will find many videos along with Breitbart, Hannity and The Blaze all tell the truth about Obama which he and his Marxist friends have hidden.
      From Judicial Watch "Obama has made it his personal mission to push the notion that he is transparent and accountable while doing everything in his power to prevent transparency and accountability.Obama talks a good game of transparency but is all talk! "Truth fears no inquiry" and that is why Obama fears inquiry, he does have much to hide. The book "The Corruption Chronicles" By Tom Fitton exposes Obama for the fraud he is and lists Obama as one of the most corruptpoliticianss of this new century! He calls Bill Clinton "the despicable BillClintonn and documents so much we haveforgottenn about the sleazy Clinton's from their stealing the furniture from the White House for their mansion in New York to the childish games played by Clinton'sStephanapoulouss types who did a great deal damage to the computers and videoequipment as they left the White House , pure childish like OWS.

    Comments are subject to approval and moderation. We remind everyone that The Heritage Foundation promotes a civil society where ideas and debate flourish. Please be respectful of each other and the subjects of any criticism. While we may not always agree on policy, we should all agree that being appropriately informed is everyone's intention visiting this site. Profanity, lewdness, personal attacks, and other forms of incivility will not be tolerated. Please keep your thoughts brief and avoid ALL CAPS. While we respect your first amendment rights, we are obligated to our readers to maintain these standards. Thanks for joining the conversation.

    Big Government Is NOT the Answer

    Your tax dollars are being spent on programs that we really don't need.

    I Agree I Disagree ×

    Get Heritage In Your Inbox — FREE!

    Heritage Foundation e-mails keep you updated on the ongoing policy battles in Washington and around the country.