Saturday, February 13, 2010

Auto and Product Safety Recalls v. Criminal Prosecution?

In light of all the deaths, suffocations, and amputations from poorly designed baby beds and strollers, you might justifiably wonder why the companies which manufacture such products are almost never prosecuted. The simple truth is that, in our society today, while you may see lawsuits and recalls, you will rarely see criminal prosecutions in such situations.
In my opinion, here are a few of the reasons why. First of all, most prosecutors and criminal investigators are not geered to handle such prosecutions. Even the U.S. Department of Justice lacks sufficient resources and is already overloaded with plenty of "traditional" criminal cases to prosecute. But in my opinion, as a former federal prosecutor, prosecutors nationwide can do a better job! They should more often make the time, "think outside the box," and target for prosecution those who clearly endanger our lives with defective products and automobiles.
But other challenges exist. In addition, such cases are difficult to prove. For example, unless you have a corporate insider who discloses confidential email memoranda to a government agent, it would be difficult, in most cases, to prove criminal intent. In other words, the government would need to prove that corporate executives knew their product would kill or injure, and that they deliberately concealed such evidence from the public or safety inspectors.
To further compound the difficulty in making a criminal case, often, the deaths and injuries occur years after the alleged criminal activities have occurred. This problem is present in many white collar crime prosecutions. For example, if a company pollutes the environment, by the time they are caught, years and years may have passed. The original parties responsible for the crimes may be dead and gone. Appropriately, consumer activist Ralph Nader has observed that, due to this problem of "delayed violence," which is often inherent in white collar crime, it is often difficult to bring criminal cases.
In conclusion, not all companies having safety issues deserve prosecution. And even when they do, many challenges exist to making a criminal prosecution stick against a corrupt company which knowingly produces defective products. However, in my opinion, the Department of Justice and state prosecutors nationwide should try even harder to bring criminal prosecutions in appropriate cases. After all, bad guys carry ink pens as well as guns!

No comments:

Post a Comment