White-collar crime is one of the trickier offenses to prosecute and punish. Unlike violent crimes, it is difficult to determine what does and what doesn't constitute a white-collar crime. Often, legitimate business practices can be mistaken for illegitimate ones, and it can be difficult to determine a participant's knowledge or intent in a questionable situation.
When a person is convicted of white-collar crime, it can be similarly difficult to determine a sentence. Courts often have difficulty determining how much jail time is appropriate in such situations. And according to a number of concerned defense attorneys, the current system may call for far too much jail time for those convicted of white-collar crimes.
That's because the current sentencing guidelines are tied to the amount of money involved in the white-collar crime. If a scheme involves millions or billions of dollars, sentencing guidelines call for the defendant to be sentenced to huge amounts of prison time, even if they didn't personally benefit from the crime.
So, judges are increasingly ignoring the sentencing guidelines, and using lower sentences instead. Take, for instance, a former attorney who was arrested for playing a part in a case of high-level fraud. The fraud caused over $2.4 billion in losses, which meant the lawyer could have been facing life in prison even though he received no financial gain from the scheme. The judge sentenced him to a year in prison instead, calling the sentencing guidelines "absurd."
In response to such cases, defense advocates have appealed to the Justice Department to readjust the way it calculates sentencing guidelines for white collar crimes. Justice Department officials stated that although in some cases the guidelines may require review, they feel the guidelines are generally appropriate.
Source: Reuters, "U.S. prosecutor cautions against white-collar sentencing revamp" Nate Raymond, Sep. 18, 2013