Personal interests and motivations differ from person to person. The consequences of a criminal conviction are life-altering and may include moral condemnation, retribution, and incarceration.
Corporations, on the other hand, typically have one motivation: maximizing profit. Corporations, with their “vast size, wealth, and power,” do not possess a conscience. They will never face the moral condemnation, imprisonment, or death penalty that so many human beings fear. Rather, corporations face criminal fines that are often treated as “a mere cost of business or a slap on the wrist.” These fines do not serve the purpose of moral condemnation or retribution, but rather serve mere regulatory functions.
So, do corporations deserve the same strict application of the Sixth Amendment afforded to human beings? In her article, Money Makes All the Difference: Why Corporate Defendants Are Not Entitled to the Sixth Amendment Jury Trial Right’s Full Protection, Allison A. Reuter answers in the negative. This Article, which will be featured in the New England Law Review’s Volume 48, Book Three, asserts that corporations punished via quasi-criminal or regulatory fines should not receive all the benefits of the Sixth Amendment.
Reuter urges courts to halt the “clear trend” of affording corporations the same constitutional protections as a person. In 2000, the United States Supreme Court, in Apprendi v. New Jersey, held that “where an aggravating factor would increase a defendant’s sentence beyond the statutory maximum, the jury must decide the presence of this factor beyond a reasonable doubt.” The Court extended the rule in Ring v. Arizona, declaring the state’s sentencing scheme unconstitutional because it allowed a judge to find facts that enhanced criminal sentences. In 2012, the Supreme Court handed down its most recent Apprendi-type decision, Southern Union Co. v. United States, extending the rule to factual findings used to increase corporate criminal fines considered substantial or non-petty. The Southern Union Court grounded its decision in the “two longstanding tenets of common-law criminal jurisprudence”: (1) that a jury of the defendant’s peers should confirm every accusation, and (2) that an accusation can only stand if supported by all necessary factual elements.
Reuter takes exception to the Supreme Court’s jurisprudence in this area, poking holes in its reasoning, demonstrating the negative effects of the Southern Union decision, and posing an alternative path. Reuter argues that the decision will result in procedural unfairness, judicial inefficiency, and questions about the legislative acts that allow judges to set fine amounts. She critiques the Supreme Court for failing to recognize the characteristics that distinguish corporations from individual people, and those underlying justifications that distinguish criminal fines from incarceration and capital punishment. Lastly, Reuter offers an alternative approach, calling for limits on the Apprendi rule in the context of quasi-criminal fines issued to corporate entities. She wants to restrict the rule “to fines that are punitive in nature, rather than deterrent or compensatory.”
Be sure to read the full article in the New England Law Review, Volume 48, Book Three, due to be posted here later this month.