According to the Old Testament, how long did Cain's brother live? As long as he was Able! Why do people commit crimes? From the time of Cain and Able, that question has plagued the world. And there are no easy answers! As a former state and federal prosecutor for over 26 years, I have seen countless reasons offered by defense lawyers for why their clients commit crimes. As a criminal defense lawyer, presently, I also see firsthand that each case is different.
Let's briefly consider some of the traditional theories and then we will consider some of my own theories about why people commit crimes! The classical and positivist theories are two of the traditional schools of thought concerning crime causation. According to the classical theory, a criminal exercises free will and makes a rational choice to commit a crime because it brings him or her pleasure. The positivist school maintains, on the other hand, that each criminal is influenced by social or economic conditions to commit crime. Another theory, (offered by a famous sociologist, Edwin Sutherland), called "differential association," maintains that each criminal learns bad behavior by associating with others who approve of it. This theory is often offered as an explanation of white collar crime.
But I have a couple of other theories about why folks commit crimes! I submit that some people are just plain greedy and others are just plain mean! (Of course, these theories do not apply to any of our clients)!
On a more serious note, I also maintain that the breakdown of the family unit is a leading cause of the rising crime rate in the United States. And no, I am not referring to the traditional "Ozzie and Harriet" family unit. You don't necessarily have to have a mother and father to avoid crime. But my theory is that each child does need somebody--whether it is a mother and father, or father, or mother, or grandmother--at least SOMEBODY, to ensure that that child is where they need to be and that they are doing what they are supposed to be doing at all times! Sadly, for too many kids today, there is no SOMEBODY there to watch over them and keep them on the straight and narrow path! And this may lead to criminal activity in some cases.
But another important point I want to make in this post is that, in my opinion, there are no simple, easy explanations of crime causation. Each crime and each criminal is unique. Therefore, for each crime, there is a unique set of reasons for why it occurred.
What do you think are the primary reasons for why people commit crimes?
"I couldn't wait to grow up, so I could get paid for voting." I will never forget those chilling words! They were spoken by an 18 year old young woman who I interviewed, (as a former federal prosecutor), while preparing for one of my biggest federal criminal cases: the Dodge County vote-buying case.
Dodge County is located in central Georgia, about an hour southeast of Macon, Georgia. It is a beautiful farming community and has some really good people who live there. But for decades, Dodge County had developed a bad reputation as a place where (some) candidates would pay voters for their votes. It had degenerated to the point where both sides in one contested election for Dodge County's sole county commissioner seat actually set up tables at opposite ends of the courthouse and supporters of the two candidates would openly bid for voters' votes as they entered the courthouse! Dodge County's sheriff was really smart. He had spread money out among vote-buyers in both county commission camps to buy votes for him! As a federal prosecutor, I was entrusted with the onerous task of prosecuting this vote-buying case and with trying to "clean up Dodge!"
Vote-buying is a federal crime, as long as a federal candidate is on the ballot. We prosecuted a total of 28 defendants. It was quite an ordeal! Fortunately, all were convicted, including the sheriff and both county commission candidates, along with a number of their supporters. The head of the Department of Justice Election Fraud Section has called this the largest election fraud case in United States history. I won my first D.O.J. Director's Award for this prosecution. But I certainly do not deserve all the credit. I was supported by an incredible team of agents from the G.B.I., the F.B.I., and the Georgia Secretary of State's Office. Without their fine work, we could not have been successful!
Awards and recognition are always nice. (Getting out of Dodge County with my skin was nice, too!) But I take greater satisfaction in believing we made a difference in how elections were conducted in this county. And I will always hope that no child in Dodge County will ever again associate growing up with getting paid to vote.
According to Wikipedia, the United States has the greatest number of prisoners, per capita, of any nation in the world. However, news reports this week indicate that, next year, for perhaps the first time in 40 years, the number of prisoners in this country may actually drop. What is the reason for this abrupt change? Are judges getting soft? Has our criminal justice system developed new, innovative sentencing options which account for fewer defendants getting incarcerated? I'm afraid not!
Perhaps new sentencing alternatives are contributing a little bit to fewer incarcerations by sentencing judges. For instance, drug courts are now a popular, fairly new innovation which result in more probationary sentences. But drug courts still are not in vogue everywhere and do not account for the drop in prisoner numbers.
As I have promoted before in this blog, I wish states would also use diversion centers to house more of their non-violent offenders. Diversion centers cost a lot less than prisons and offer a more constructive alternative, especially for white collar crime offenders. By using diversion centers more, and by housing fewer inmates behind bars, states could save money, defendants could get jobs, and victims could get restitution. But diversion centers and other alternative sentencing ideas are not the reason for the drop in prisoner numbers.
The real reason for the slight expected drop in prisoner numbers is..........state budget problems. As states, such as California, are struggling to keep their budgetary heads above water, they are looking at other sentencing options, and even at widespread early prisoner releases, to help control costs.
So, while our states and our criminal justice system still generally "don't get it," when it comes to meaningful reform, the number of prisoners is actually about to go down. You decide whether or not that is a good thing. In my opinion, until true reform occurs, (with more drug courts and diversion centers), the statistics don't really mean a thing.
Don't you agree that the movie, "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation," is a holiday classic? In my opinion, actor Randy Quaid, who plays Clark Griswald's (i.e. Chevy Chase's) country bumpkin brother-in-law in the movie, is a primary reason to watch this comedy! I always enjoy Randy Quaid's performances! In the "Christmas Vacation" movie, Quaid has a number of classic lines. For instance, when Clark Griswald fails to get his anticipated Christmas bonus check and instead receives from his boss a "jelly-of-the-month" subscription, Quaid kindly pats him on the back and observes, "Clark, that's the gift that keeps on giving!"
So, you might wonder, what does Randy Quaid or this holiday movie have to do with a blog about white collar crime?! Well, here's the connection! Unfortunately, as you may have read, arrest warrants have reportedly been issued by a California court for Quaid and his wife, based upon their failure to appear and answer fraud charges brought against them by a California inn-keeper. According to Quaid's attorney, the charges are all a mistake. The Quaids have reportedly already paid the inn-keeper in full. Here's hoping that the Quaids are correct and that their defense attorney can straighten out this mess!
But the point of this post is that, no matter whether or not criminal charges are valid, it is always critical that you communicate with your defense lawyer and that you ALWAYS appear in court, as directed! Otherwise, like the Quaids, you might receive a prison sentence and that, my friends, is a "gift that keeps on giving!"
Have you heard the news? The I.R.S. is coming to get you! Actually, the news reports concern a new I.R.S. unit which is designed to catch wealthy tax cheats who engage in income tax evasion by hiding unreported income in complex corporate entities around the world.
Not only is the Internal Revenue Service reportedly hiring hundreds of new employees for this new unit, but also is opening offices around the world in places such as Beijing, Panama City, and Sydney. We truly have become a global economy, so a global approach is necessary.
It will be interesting to see how much success this new I.R.S. unit will have in the next few years. This new approach by the I.R.S. to focus on high-rolling international tax cheats may be their best move in years! And as long as the I.R.S. is focused on the international high rollers, then maybe at least they won't be raiding the homes of ordinary citizens and seizing their children's piggy banks! (Of course, I am only teasing! As a former federal prosecutor, I know that none of my I.R.S. agent friends would ever do that!)
Have you seen the news reports today about the latest telephone scam which targets the elderly? In this latest scam, the con artists, who often target the elderly, (as we have discussed before in this blog), will call and pretend to be a family member who has had an emergency. The con artists will then reportedly claim their credit cards don't work and urge the targeted victim to wire money to help them. Sadly, while this scam may succeed only a small percentage of the time, the con artists still hope to defraud a small number of victims out of thousands of dollars. Here's hoping that these con artists will make a mistake by contacting a savvy elderly person who will contact the authorities and "make their day" by getting them locked up in time for Christmas!
You would think that nightclub owners around the world would have already learned about the liability and prosecution risks of allowing performing groups to use pyrotechnics in their clubs. You would also think that they would want to maintain a safe environment for their patrons. Yet, last week, another such tragedy occurred when a Moscow club caught on fire, as a result of a pyrotechnics problem, and 112 people were killed. As you may recall, this tragedy follows a similar case in Rhode Island in 2003 when 96 patrons were killed in a club fire as a result of a pyrotechnics mishap. According to Wikipedia, other similar incidents, including one at an Ecuador nightclub, have also occurred elsewhere around the world.
Business people should be aware that prosecutors around the world are now prosecuting club owners and others who are responsible for these incidents. But here's hoping that those in positions of responsibility will act more responsibly and avoid such tragedies in the future.
As a young state prosecutor, I once had to try criminal cases in a rural, South Georgia county, which was located largely in the swamps, far below the gnat line. As I drove to court, it seemed to me that this desolate, God-forsaken county probably had more gators and possums than human beings living in it. I won't name the county, because, sure as the world, if I do, then it will be my luck that your momma was born and raised in that county! But this is a true story.
In this rural, isolated county, court was held only one week per year, during January. This meant that, if you had a hankerin' to murder anybody, you'd be better off to kill 'em in December, because, if you waited until after court week in January, then you'd be sitting and wasting in jail a mighty long time, until the judge came back to town for court the following January!
At that time, there was no courthouse in this rural county. The judge held court each year in the county's only public school. Since there were no restaurants located anywhere in the county, the clerk of court graciously provided lunch for all the court participants.
One year, only two jury trials were held in this county during trial week. The first case involved the murder by one man of another man. The other case involved the killing by one man of another man's bird dog. Well, the man who killed the other man was acquitted. But the man who killed the other man's bird dog was found guilty!
This is a true story!
What, if anything, does this story tell you about justice and bird dogs in this county?!
After several serious posts, let's have a little fun! We are introducing a new category: "White Collar Crime Movies." "A Civil Action" is the first movie we will discuss.
As outlined in Wikipedia, this movie is based upon a true story, (and book by the same name, by Jonathan Harr), about a lawyer's battle against a big company located in Woburn, Massachusetts. The company had allegedly committed environmental crimes and polluted the community's water supply, thus allegedly causing an alarming number of leukemia cases among local children.
The movie reveals the difficulties which plaintiffs' lawyers face in bringing class action lawsuits against big companies, along with the difficulties inherent in proving environmental crimes. The movie stars John Travolta and two of my favorite actors: Robert Duvall and William H. Macy. Although this is not a movie critic's blog, I would suggest you check out this movie!
Have any of you seen the movie? What did you think?
We are father and son attorneys who enjoy practicing law together in Martinez, Georgia, near Augusta. Richard H. Goolsby, Sr. is a former federal prosecutor in Augusta who has tried some of the largest, most complex cases in Georgia history. Please also visit our law firm's website: www.goolsbylawfirm.com
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