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DOJ Unveils New Policy on Individual Liability in White-Collar Prosecutions
On September 9, the Department of Justice (DOJ), issued a policy memorandum concerning DOJ's goal of holding individuals accountable for corporate fraud or other misconduct. While some of the guidelines set forth in the memorandum are statements of practices already being followed by DOJ, or by specific U.S. Attorney's Offices, some of the measures are new and reflect an enhanced focus on DOJ's goal of holding individuals criminally or civilly liable for corporate wrongdoing. The memo sets forth "six key steps" to accomplish this goal and further DOJ's underlying policies of deterring future illegal activity, incentivizing change in corporate behavior, holding proper parties responsible for their actions, and promoting public confidence in the justice system. First, the memo provides that, to be eligible to receive any credit for cooperating with the government in a civil or criminal investigation, a company must completely disclose to DOJ all relevant facts about individual misconduct, regardless of the individual's position, status or seniority at the company. If a company provides incomplete information about individual employees' misconduct, then the company's cooperation will not be considered a mitigating factor in a criminal investigation and will not support, in the case of a prosecution, a cooperation-related reduction at sentencing. Likewise, where the company is not completely forthcoming about individual wrongdoing in a civil investigation, DOJ will not consider the company's cooperation in negotiating a settlement agreement. Second, the memo provides that both criminal and civil investigations should focus on individuals from the outset of the investigation, in order to discern the full extent of alleged misconduct, increase the likelihood of cooperation by individuals with knowledge of the misconduct, and maximize the chances that resolution of the investigation will include civil or criminal charges against both the company and culpable individuals. Third, the memo emphasizes that DOJ criminal and civil attorneys should be in routine communication with one another, so that the DOJ can consider the full range of potential remedies to address alleged misconduct by individuals. Fourth, the memo provides that, absent "extraordinary circumstances," no corporate resolution will provide protection for criminal or civil liability for any individuals. Fifth, the memo states that DOJ attorneys should not resolve civil or criminal investigations of a corporation without a "clear plan" to resolve related individual cases. In addition, if a decision is made not to prosecute or proceed civilly against individuals who committed the misconduct, DOJ attorneys must memorialize and submit for approval the reasons for that decision. Finally, the memo provides that civil prosecutors should consistently focus on individuals as well as the company, and evaluate the decision whether to sue an individual based on considerations beyond the individual's ability to pay. The memo notes that, while DOJ attorneys may validly consider an individual corporate wrongdoer's ability to satisfy a judgment in determining whether to pursue an action against that person, DOJ attorneys also should consider other goals and concerns in making this determination, including such things as the seriousness of a person's misconduct, the person's past history, the ability to obtain and sustain a judgment, and the long-term deterrent effects of holding an individual accountable.