The main problem with how crime is differentially defined, interpreted, and applied occurs within the context of the fundamental distinctions drawn between violent crimes and non-violent crimes. Generally speaking, the academic literature provides that “‘violent crime’ refers not only to offenses against a person (such as murder, assault, and robbery), but also to narcotics and firearms offenses” (Gallo, 1998, p. 1475) whereas non-violent crimes fall outside of these basic characterizations.
White collar crime is a huge problem because corporations can engage in actions that cause physical harm but criminal definitions treat these actions as if they are planned and committed mostly by a fictional corporate entity rather than by the individuals making the corporate decisions which cause the harm. Corporate executives are ironically perceived by the criminal law as making business decisions that unfortunately result in death or physical harm rather than engaging in premeditated or conspiratorial criminal activities.
This is patently illogical, unethical, and directly leads to unjust results in the criminal justice system. An individual who decides to drink and drive and who thereafter kills a person in an automobile is guilty of criminal negligence and charged with murder or manslaughter. A corporate executive who knowingly places a product or service on the market in order to generate profits, on the other hand, is in the contemporary criminal justice system deemed less culpable than the drunk driver. The drunk driver’s behavior kills one or two people. The corporate executive’s behavior may kill one hundred or one thousand people.
The question therefore becomes how a criminal justice system can punish the drunk driver more severely than the corporate executive. Worse, this trend is accelerating and threatens to become even more pronounced in the future. This is especially evident in the contemporary use of private military contractors, employed and administered through corporate entities, throughout the world. These are not military units, they are not bound by military codes, and yet these corporations are being paid to carry out traditional war-related duties on both land and on the sea.
It has been noted in this respect, for instance, that “with recent developments in international affairs, war is increasingly becoming a form of state and corporate criminality; therefore, it requires criminological analytical efforts” (Ruggiero, 2007, p. 132). The type of effective criminal insulation represented in the Pinto case in the 1970s is therefore being expanded and poses future challenges because corporate actors recognize that they can profit by engaging in acts that are otherwise deemed criminal because the corporate shell protects them to a certain extant from criminal liability.
The private contractors can murder and commit assaults in ways that other individuals cannot. In a civil context, clearly outside the context of this paper, it is true that Congress has enacted legislation superficially designed to punish corporate actors for the types of financial crimes represented by Enron and accounting fraud; for example, pursuant to this legislation, “the United States Sentencing Commission introduced a new set of guidelines applicable only to the sentencing of organizations” (Gallo, 1998, p. 1475).
Significantly, however, there has been no comparable legislation with respect to corporate organizations and violent crimes. What the future therefore portends is an increasing type of criminal insulation for corporate actors premised on the logic employed in the cases of Ford Pinto and contemporary military contracting. Certain privileged classes, this privilege being premised on wealth, are creating an increasingly expansive loophole through which corporate actors can escape criminal liability while other citizens are consistently held criminally responsible for the same or similar acts.