Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren has embraced a host of bad ideas in order to draw attention to her flailing presidential campaign. However, her recent bill, titled Corporate Executive Accountability Act, is perhaps one of the worst yet.
The bill, were it ever to become law, would essentially apply criminal penalties to certain individuals found guilty in civil liability trials. This is a massive undermining of the foundational legal concept that a person must be guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in order to receive a criminal conviction. In civil trials, only the preponderance of the evidence needs to point to guilt for someone to be found guilty. If Warren has her way, people could be sent to jail based on this rather flimsy standard of evidence.
Naturally, many people are very happy with Sen. Warren’s proposal because it specifically targets the rich and powerful. The Corporate Executive Accountability Act clearly states that the rule change would apply to companies whose revenue exceeds $1 billion a year. The company must be found guilty in civil court of committing crimes, repeatedly breaking the law or committing certain violations that affect the health, safety and personal data of either 1% of the U.S. population or 1% of the population of any given state.
Had this bill been passed years ago, some companies that would have been affected include Wells Fargo, Equifax and Cambridge Analytica. The bill may also have sent executives from Yahoo, Target and Marriott to jail due to the data breaches they were involved with.
Those in favor of the bill are ignoring a couple of extremely important facts. First of all, it is a central tenet of the United States legal system that someone must have what is called “a guilty mind” in order to be convicted of a criminal act. Civil crimes and criminal ones are different from each other, because civil crimes can be caused by negligence rather than a desire to cause harm.
Sending someone to jail for what is essentially a careless action or a failure to exercise due caution goes against the principles the United States was founded on. Even worse, this bill paves the way for the erosion of basic rights not just for ultra-rich company executives but also for ordinary individuals.
Once a precedent has been set, it will be all too easy for progressive lawmakers to expand the definition of who can be sent to jail due to a conviction in a civil court. Moderately successful, self-employed individuals who don’t know much about cybersecurity could face jail time if enough people are affected by a data breach or something similar. Given this, it is not hard to see why the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers is opposing the bill, calling it “ill-conceived” and an abandonment of core principles of criminal law.
Unfortunately, Warren and her acolytes haven’t thought about the repercussions of the Corporate Executive Accountability Act. It would undermine the United States justice system, and could be used against ordinary middle-class Americans in the future.
There is a very good reason why civil penalties are far different than criminal ones. While civil cases require only a consideration of the preponderance of the evidence, they don’t result in jail time when people are found guilty. Rather, the guilty party is required to pay a fine.
Criminal charges are reserved for those who have committed serious crimes and, because jail time is the usual punishment given for such crimes, the jury or judge deciding the case must be sure the accused is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. This is exactly how the system is meant to work, and tampering with it for political gain is unacceptable.
~ Liberty Planet