Who Prosecutes White Collar Crimes?
Most white-collar crimes are investigated and prosecuted by federal authorities. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) investigates the bulk of white collar crimes that we see come before the Eastern District of Virginia federal courts. Generally, the FBI investigates bank and mortgage fraud and other general frauds. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) investigates tax matters but also frequently teams up with other agencies such as the FBI for fraud investigations. The IRS has the primary responsibility to investigate money laundering offenses, which often are charged along with fraud offenses. The Department of Defense is involved in defense procurement fraud cases; the US Postal Inspector investigates some types of fraud involving the mail; and the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency may be involved in the cases involving imported counterfeit goods.
Once a crime has been investigated, it is presented to the Attorney General of the United States for review and a decision on whether to prosecute. The Attorney General’s office is divided into multiple districts across the country. Each district has a deputy attorney general that is responsible for prosecuting the crimes that occur within their district. The deputy attorney general and the assistant US attorneys of their office will handle the prosecution of a white-collar crime from inception through conclusion.
State authorities also prosecute some white-collar crimes. In Virginia, the investigation of white-collar crime usually begins with local law enforcement agencies. Most white-collar crime investigations by local law enforcement are a result of a traffic stop or some other call to the police where during the course of the investigation, it is uncovered that the person is in possession of a number of fraudulent credit cards or identification cards. The prosecution of white-collar crimes in the state of Virginia is handled by the Commonwealth’s Attorney Office for the city or county where the crime occurred or was discovered. Due to the complex and complicated nature of some white-collar crime schemes, local commonwealth’s attorney offices will receive assistance from the Virginia attorney general’s office in prosecuting complex cases.
What Is A Grand Jury’s Role In White Collar Crime Cases?
The grand jury is a group of people selected to sit on a jury that decide whether or not to return indictment. An indictment formally charges the person with committing a crime and begins the criminal prosecution process. Most federal and state grand juries consist of 12 to 23 people empaneled to investigate criminal conduct. Federal, state and county prosecutors utilize grand juries to decide whether probable cause exists to support criminal charges. A regular jury, 6 to 12 people, also known as a petit jury, hears only trial cases. A regular jury decides the facts in those cases. The grand jurors are chosen from the same group of people as regular trial juries. Grand juries hear cases from prosecutors all day long and all different types of criminal cases.
Usually the cases are felonies, especially in the white-collar context. The grand jury physically sits in a college lecture type of room in the same building as the prosecutor’s office. There is not a judge present, just court officers and grand jury clerks. Prosecutors will come in, present evidence in the form of witnesses, documents, photos and a video and audio. This is done often over the course of a day or a week or longer. The grand jury assesses whether there is adequate basis for bringing criminal charges against a suspect. In United States v. Williams, the Supreme Court described the grand jury as “a kind of buffer or referee between the government and the people.”
Are Defendants In White Collar Crime Cases Treated Differently Than Defendants In Other Cases?
As a defendant in a criminal case, the white collar crime defendant will experience a criminal procedure that nearly mirrors that of people charged with violent or drug crimes. One of the biggest differences that we see in how white-collar defendants are treated comes in the area of pre-trial release or bond. Often, white-collar defendants have not had previous experience with the criminal justice system and come before the court with a clean or relatively minor criminal history. Additionally, the crimes with which they are charged have usually not created any physical harm or danger to anyone. As such, when assessing whether or not to seek pre-trial detention, the government will often not seek to have a white-collar crime defendant detained pending trial.
However, in high profile cases or with the white-collar defendant that has the financial means to become a flight risk, the government will either seek pre-trial detention in jail or some form of electronic monitoring of the defendant’s whereabouts. Another big difference in how white-collar crime defendants are treated comes in the form of the potential punishment that they face. The federal criminal justice system has a lot of drug and gun related crimes that come with stiff mandatory minimum prison sentences. Many white-collar crimes do not have mandatory minimum prison sentences and this allows for much shorter periods of incarceration for white-collar crimes.
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