Ellen S. Podgor


When one thinks of "wrongful convictions and reliability in the criminal justice process" one often thinks of street crime convictions of defendants later proven innocent through DNA or other scientific evidence. But this essay presents a new dimension to this issue—the white collar crime context. Three stories are considered here: Arthur Andersen LLP, Jamie Ois, and Jeffrey Skilling—all of whom proceeded to trial after criminal charges were brought against them. These three are contrasted with KPMG, Gene Foster, and Andrew Fastow, all of whom secured plea agreements or deferred prosecution agreements with reduced sentences and finite results. The concern here is that innocence or guilt does not always frame the judicial process in white collar cases. The risk of trial becomes so great that in order to minimize the possible consequences, innocence becomes an irrelevancy. Although the plea bargain to trial differential existed for many years in crimes outside the white collar crime context, the high sentences now being given to individuals and entities charged with white collar crimes place these crimes in comparable stead with street crimes. This gives pause to whether the next phase of wrongful convictions might move beyond street crimes into the white collar world.