Give Credit Where Credit Is Due

The Harvard Law School Forum on Corporate Governance and Financial Regulation 2012-05-29


Editor’s Note: Ben W. Heineman, Jr. is a former GE senior vice president for law and public affairs and a senior fellow at Harvard University’s schools of law and government. This post is based on an article that appeared in Corporate Counsel.

Federal enforcement authorities should give much more systematic credit to effective corporate compliance programs when making decisions about criminal prosecutions, including nonprosecution or deferred prosecution agreements, and when deciding the scope of civil and administrative settlements.

That is the fundamental conclusion of a recent report from an advisory group constituted in November 2011 to assess the effectiveness of the Federal Sentencing Guidelines for Organizations (FSGO) 20 years after publication by the U.S. Sentencing Commission. Organized by the Ethics Resource Center, the advisory group was composed of law enforcement officials, judges, prosecutors, academics, and compliance experts from companies and law firms. It focused on corporations, not other entities covered by the FSGO (such as unions or pension funds). (Disclosure: I was on the advisory group and approved the final report but was not involved in decisions about scope or in drafting.)

The advisory group faced a fundamental paradox at the outset. In response to the elements of a good compliance program outlined in the FSGO (and elements drawn from numerous other sources), many corporations have established strong compliance and ethics programs during the past 20 years. Yet few corporations received credit under the Sentencing Guidelines because there were so few corporate convictions as more and more corporate criminal investigations were settled outright or resolved with nonprosecution or deferred prosecution agreements (NPAs and DPAs).

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Benjamin W. Heineman, Jr., Harvard Law School Program on Corporate Governance and Harvard Kennedy School of Government,

Date tagged:

05/29/2012, 14:02

Date published:

05/29/2012, 08:48