September 14, 2017 / 5:13 PM / 2 years ago

Justice Department mulls changing corporate prosecution policy

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Justice Department is reviewing its policies over how it prosecutes corporate white collar crimes and may be making some changes “in the near future,” Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said on Thursday.

FILE PHOTO: The Department of Justice (DOJ) logo is pictured on a wall in New York, United States, December 5, 2013. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri/File Photo

Speaking at the Heritage Foundation, Rosenstein said that the department is reviewing the so-called Yates Memo, a document released in 2015 by his predecessor Sally Yates, which urged prosecutors to focus on holding individuals accountable in corporate crime cases.

“It is under review, and I anticipate that there may be some changes to the policy on corporate prosecutions,” Rosenstein said.

He did not elaborate on what kinds of changes could be in store.

The memo’s emphasis on individual accountability is likely to be preserved, given prior comments from Attorney General Jeff Sessions about the importance of punishing individuals for corporate crimes.

The Yates Memo is widely seen as a response to criticism of the Justice Department following the 2007-2009 financial crisis, when few of the top bankers were prosecuted for their roles in the collapse of the housing market.

Under the memo, prosecutors were instructed not to provide cooperation credit to a company during an investigation unless it disclosed all of the facts about the individuals who were involved in suspected wrongdoing.

Defense lawyers criticized parts of the memo, saying they were concerned prosecutors might seek information that was subject to attorney-client privilege in exchange for their clients’ cooperation.

Yates, an appointee of former President Barack Obama, was fired by the White House in January for refusing to defend President Donald Trump’s travel ban.

Decisions on whether to pursue criminal and civil corporate penalties against companies have long fueled debate among legal experts.

Critics say large corporate penalties can unduly punish shareholders and that focusing on individual accountability is preferable.

Sessions echoed that philosophy in an April speech, saying: “It is not merely companies, but specific individuals, who break the law.”

Many consumer advocacy groups disagree, saying that both individual accountability and large corporate penalties can deter bad behavior.

Aside from discussing white collar crime on Thursday, Rosenstein said his office is reviewing other enforcement policy areas, such as marijuana and the department’s policy on when and how it may issue subpoenas to media organizations.

He said no decisions have been made, but noted said there is some “pretty significant evidence” about the harms of marijuana.

Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Paul Simao and Meredith Mazzilli

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