From the lead prosecutor on the Enron investigation, an eye-opening examination of the explosion of American white-collar crime.
If "corporations are people, too", why isn't anyone in jail?
A serious defect in a GM car causes accidents; Enron scams investors out of their money; banks bet on the housing market crash and win. In the race to maximize profits, corporations can behave in ways that are morally outrageous but technically legal.
In Capital Offenses, Samuel Buell draws on the unique pairing of his expertise as a Duke University law professor and his personal experience leading the investigation into Enron - the biggest white-collar crime case in US history - to present an in-depth examination of business crime today.
At the heart of it sits the limited liability corporation, simultaneously the bedrock of American prosperity and the reason that white-collar crime is difficult to prosecute - a brilliant legal innovation that, in its modern form, can seem impossible to regulate or even manage. By shielding employees from legal responsibility, the corporation encourages the risk taking that drives economic growth. But its special legal status and its ever-expanding scale place daunting barriers in the way of federal and local investigators.
Detailing the complex legal frameworks that govern both corporations and the people who carry out their missions, Buell shows that deciphering business crime is rarely black or white. In lucid, thought-provoking prose, he illuminates the depths of the legal issues at stake - delving into fraudulent practices like Ponzi schemes, bad accounting, insider trading, and the art of "loopholing" - showing how every major case and each problem of law further exposes the ambivalence and instability at the core of America's relationship with its corporations.
An expert in criminal law, Buell masterfully examines the limits of too permissive or overzealous prosecution of business crimes. Capital Offenses invites us to take a fresh look at our legal framework and learn how it can be used to effectively discipline corporations for wrongdoing, without dismantling the corporations.
©2016 Samuel W. Buell (P)2016 Audible, Inc.
Here, as a taste of what this book accomplishes, is the best explanation I have seen of the criminal justice system's response (or non-response) to major banks' conduct surrounding the 2008 crash. There were brow-wrinkling decisions to be made, and this book puts a face on the deciders but more importantly, explores the trade-offs when a JPMorgan or a GMC is a potential defendant. And why are nickel-and-dime drug dealers locked up while execs walk free? It's not as simple a matter as it looks. This author is precisely the person, by experience and by fine writing, to walk us through all this.
As a legal scholar and professor, I have cracked countless books, from texts and treatises to popular works, across the spectrum of legal topics. This is in the very top rank in what it achieves across all categories. We get a very complete survey of issues and problems with criminal justice and its enforcement today. Various nuances in rules are clearly explained, and their effects across the justice system are explored. We see why prosecutors (and the defense bar) do what they do, in better detail and clarity than I have every seen. The author gives meaningful detail, yet uses plain language -- all carefully phrased and edited. (I can readily forgive the very few flat spots where brevity would be better. It is never annoying.) Anyone interested in getting beyond today's mess of attention-grabbing factoids and shallow press reports, to the real concerns and trade-offs in this field, will be rewarded. It is in the careful walk-through of trade-offs, of the upsides and downsides, costs and benefits, of various rules and approaches, the author shines. These are told in treatise fashion at times, and plugged into actual, timely stories of major, familiar scandals and cases. There is rich commentary about the perceived (and actual) differing outcomes between white collar and street crime, rich and poor, that would serve any citizen to know. And the benefits are not limited strictly to criminal law, either; the bulk of the concepts have similarities to other areas of law, as well as interfaces with them.
I surely feel better now addressing classes about the ins and outs of the class differences in the legal world. And I am a better informed citizen to using my vote for the reforms the future asks us to decide on.
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