What Can I Expect From White Collar Criminal Charges?

DC white collar defense attorney David Benowitz answers some questions about what someone can expect from a white collar criminal case.

What Does It Mean For Someone To be Charged With A White Collar Crime?

David Benowitz: Typically what it means is that they are charged with some sort of economic crime, meaning fraud, theft of government property, or maybe a money laundering issue. Typically a white collar crime doesn’t involve any sort of violence; it is a crime that is committed in a business context.

What Are The Most Common White Collar Crimes?

David Benowitz: White collar crimes that I have seen most commonly charged are economic types of crimes; fraud, alleged Ponzi schemes, real estate or mortgage fraud, health care fraud. Prosecution for those crimes is definitely on the rise. Particularly in the Washington, DC, Virginia, and Maryland area, I’ve also seen government contracting fraud prosecutions.

How Are Penalties Determined in White Collar Criminal Cases?

David Benowitz: It’s a very complicated area of the law. The United States Sentencing Guidelines are involved, and there is a lot of debate about how those guidelines have been created and the effect they have on white collar cases. The way that the Sentencing Guidelines are situated, there is a “loss amount”. That means that the amount of actual or intended “loss,” to the government or other alleged victim, drives the number of months that a person is potentially facing in jail. There is a movement now to change that and to make it a more common sense approach, but there are a lot of factors that go into that calculation. It is very complicated.

How Can You Mitigate Penalties in White Collar Criminal Cases?

David Benowitz: A judge has to consider and decide what penalty is appropriate at the sentencing. The judge has to consider many factors and one of those factors is the nature and circumstances of the offense and the person’s role in it. There are also factors about the person, including what type of person they are, what kind of background they have, and other things in their life that may have contributed to what happened in the case. There are very basic, common sense things the judge has to consider and those can go a long way towards potentially mitigating a penalty.

What Are Common Misconception About White Collar Criminal Charges?

David Benowitz: Probably the most common misconception would be when people say, “Listen, I have nothing to hide. I didn’t do anything wrong. I should just go and talk to the government and I’m going to show them that they’re wrong.” That is not a wise strategy. As lawyers, we do that all the time. We’ll go talk to the government and explain why the government is wrong and why the client shouldn’t be charged with something. The client should not be doing that because all they’re doing is making statements that could potentially be used against them. If they don’t succeed, they’re going to end up making all these statements and getting nothing in exchange for them. Those statements may very well be used against them in court.

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