Wednesday, November 10, 2010
Citizens United v. Election Commission held that, like human citizens, corporations can exercise their right to free speech by spending as much money as they like trying to influence elections. This article does not attack or defend that decision, but rather explores its implications for criminal liability, corporate and otherwise. Most prominently, Citizens United reinforces the long-accepted but still highly controversial proposition that, despite their inanimate nature, corporations can be criminally prosecuted for harm they cause. Less obviously, Citizens United provides fodder for those who would soften current corporate liability and punishment rules. Less obviously still, the decision could bolster the case for expanding corporate criminal procedure rights. Finally, if the latter three developments come to pass, Citizens United might also have a significant impact on how the criminal justice system treats street criminals. After all, the courts can hardly withhold from human offenders and suspects the dispositional breaks and procedural rights they have granted non-human corporations. Right?