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Federal white collar crimes easier to prove with erosion of mens rea: Part 2

As discussed in the previous post, the list of federal crimes has continued to grow as provisions for proving that a person willfully or even knowingly committed that crime have decreased. Many of these changes have most affected the area of federal white collar crimes.

For example, in 2002 Congress made new laws about punishing white collar crimes after the scandals at WorldCom, Enron and other corporations. The Sarbanes-Oxley Act came out of hearings regarding the reform of white collar crimes at that time. This act ended up weakening the standards of criminal intent needed to prove that a person committed a crime covered by the act.

In another example, Congress revised a law regarding money laundering in 1994. Congress revised the law to take out the provision that a person had to know it was federal law to report cash transactions over $10,000 in order to be convicted for failing to follow the law.

Congress took the willful provision out of this law because a person had just been found not guilty of failing to report a cash transaction because they didn't know that it was required under law. Now a person could be convicted of failing to report the transaction because it is against the law, even if they did not know the law.

Another issue that affects white collar crime cases is a revised law that says that it is illegal to destroy documents that could be used in a criminal case. It used to be that a person who willfully destroyed documents needed in a current case could be found guilty of breaking this law, but now anyone who destroys any documents that could be used at any time in the future to prove someone broke a law in the future could be charged under the law.

Certain members of Congress are working on reforming the ways laws get made in order to keep these key mens rea provisions in new federal laws.

Source: The Wall Street Journal, "As Federal Crime List Grows, Threshold of Guilt Declines," Gary Fields and John R. Emshwiller, Sept. 27, 2011

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