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  • Print publication year: 2019
  • Online publication date: June 2019

16 - Corporate Criminal Responsibility


Corporate criminal responsibility refers to the legal principles that determine whether a corporation (or other nonpersonal entity) can be convicted of a crime. While those principles may not strictly be considered a question of “procedure,” they have a very strong impact on criminal investigations in the United States. The principles applied in federal courts in the United States differ from those in many other countries—and, in fact, from principles applied in several of the states.

No federal statute defines or sets generally applicable standards for corporate criminal responsibility; rather, the law applicable to this issue is mostly a development of the common law. The federal approach is based on the notion of respondeat superior, which is a principle found in the law of torts rather than criminal law. The adoption of the respondeat superior principle to criminal proceedings derives from a 1909 decision of the Supreme Court which held that under a specific statute so providing, a corporation could be convicted of a crime.