100 Years of White Collar Crime in "Twitter"

By Podgor, Ellen S. | The Review of Litigation, Spring 2011 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

100 Years of White Collar Crime in "Twitter"

Podgor, Ellen S., The Review of Litigation


One could hardly use Twitter to track 100 years of white collar crime, since this social networking forum was first created in 2006. ' But neither could one go back 100 years to track white collar crime since the term "white collar crime" was first coined by Edwin Sutherland in 1939.2 So this Essay commences with two false conceptions: both Twitter and the term white collar crime have not existed for 100 years.

As a social networking website that allows individuals to post messages called "tweets" of up to 140 characters, Twitter advertises itself as "a real-time information network powered by people all around the world that lets you share and discover what is happening now."3 Had it existed for the last 100 years it is likely that many recent white collar crime events would have been permanently displayed on Twitter sites throughout the world. After all, white collar criminals and their activities are not new themes with the media.

What this Essay attempts to do is capture some of the key events in the last 100 years that would likely have been prominently displayed on Twitter, had it existed at the time. It looks first at corporate criminal liability, then individual liability, and then discusses key statutes and crimes that have been used in the prosecution of white collar criminal activity. In this regard, mail fraud, RICO, and perjury are examined. Finally, this Essay notes some of the sentencing issues that have influenced the treatment of white collar crime. The ultimate goal of this fictional presentation is to demonstrate a historical overview of white collar crime happenings. But in doing so, it is important to note that the events mentioned are merely representative of many white collar crime investigations and prosecutions. This is not an exhaustive study of white collar crime over the past 100 years.


Well before the term "white collar crime" was coined, corporations had been found criminally liable. The Supreme Court's decision in New York Central and Hudson River Rail Road Company v. United States* is often cited as the first to impose corporate criminal liability for a crime that required a mens rea.5 Decided in 1909, the decision upheld criminal liability for violations of the Elkins Act.6 Fearful that criminal offenses would go unpunished, the Court decided that there was no rationale for excluding corporations from criminal liability.7 The criminal acts in the New York Central case were performed by a general freight traffic manager and assistant traffic manager, individuals who were clearly agents of the company and acting within the scope of their employment.8 Despite the fact that prior decisions had limited corporate criminal liability to acts of omission or strict liability crimes, this Court extended criminal liability to corporations that violated a rebating statute with a required mens rea element.9 In so doing, the Court rejected the common law approach that corporations could not be criminally culpable because they had neither "mind," nor "body," and were incapable of being "imprisoned."10

It seems likely that corporate criminality has been influential in the rise of white collar criminal sections in major law firms. Fifty years ago, it was common for large law firms to send white collar crime cases to criminal attorneys who were not a part of their law firm.11 Eventually larger firms formed "special matters" departments within the firm to handle the white collar criminal cases.12 Today one finds significant acceptance of white collar representation in major law firms.13 Perhaps if New York Central was handed down in more recent times, the tweet of white collar defense attorneys might be "At last (sigh) paying clients." And federal prosecutors might be tweeting, "Alas, corporations pay."

Proving corporate criminal liability has been easier in recent years as a result of a doctrine that allows for a collection of evidence to serve as the basis for showing entity liability.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

100 Years of White Collar Crime in "Twitter"


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?