Classical Theory and White Collar Crime

Published 18 Aug 2016

There are several theories that attempt to explain the nature of crime and the reason why people commit crimes. These theories seek to give an explanation on the root cause of crime for the purpose of controlling or preventing it. One of these theories is the Classical Theory. According to the Classical Theorists such as Cesare Beccaria, they argue that man is by nature a moral creature with a free will. (Thomas Winfree Jr. and Howard Abadinsky) This free will gives him the capacity to choose between right and wrong. When man performs an act, the assumption is that the same is a rational and conscious decision arising from a careful calculation of its possible consequences. It is to also be presumed that the doer of the act has carefully weighed the consequences of his action so that he will achieve his end-goal which is to maximize pleasure and to minimize pain.

Applying this theory to crime, when a person engages in deviant behavior and commits a crime it is to be presumed that he voluntarily and willfully committed it after a careful calculation of both the benefits and risks of its commission. Crime is therefore a product of rational and conscious choice deliberately performed by an individual and not the result of the external forces surrounding him.

The central points of this theory are: a) that human being is a rational actor; b) Rationality involves an end/means calculation; c) People freely choose all behavior, both conforming and deviant, based on their rational calculation; d) the central element of calculation involves a cost benefit analysis: Pleasure versus Pain; e) choice, with all other conditions equal, will be directed towards the maximization of individual pleasure. (Robert Keel, 2005)

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The theory is similar to that propounded by Jeremy Bentham who is the founder of the philosophy called Utilitarianism. Bentham argued that all men desire to achieve pleasure and seek to avoid pain. With this principle, every human action is geared towards achieving maximum pleasure and avoiding pain.

It is because of this reason that punishment plays an important role in the criminal justice system and in the prevention of crime. The task of the criminal justice system is to increase the pain so that the perpetrators of the crime will be deterred from committing it. Thus, the punishment should be imposed so that the potential criminals may be dissuaded from committing the crime. (Dianne De Melo) If a potential criminal is pondering on committing a crime, then the possibility of a stiff punishment will have the most likely effect of deterring him from its commission. On the other hand, if the punishment for the commission of a particular crime is not so stiff and the penalty is not so grave then the crime may still be committed if the benefits to be derived outweighs the penalty.

White Collar Crime

White-collar crime is a term coined by Edwin Sutherland which means “a crime committed by a person of respectability and high social status in the course of his occupation.” (“White-collar crime”)

There are two kinds of white-collar crime. These are: a) occupational crime and b) corporate crime. (Laureen Snider, 2007) Occupational crimes are those offenses committed against legitimate institutions by persons of high social status. Among the notable examples of these crimes are tax evasion schemes committed by a taxpayer against the government who manages to avoid paying taxes or the act of computer hackers who manages to steal millions of dollars from a bank by entering into its operating system. On the other hand, Corporate Crime refers to offenses committed by legitimate institutions for the purpose of furthering their own interest. Among the famous examples of these crimes are telemarketing frauds involving a corporation and embezzlement committed by a corporation against another corporation.

In the article entitled “The Battle against White-Collar Crimes,” it emphasizes the extent of the challenge our criminal justice system is facing insofar as the problem of white-collar crime is concerned. Studies show that one in three American households has been a victim of white-collar crime, yet just 41% actually report it. (Richard Johnston, 2002) This just shows that these kinds of crime are happening in our country yet very few are being prosecuted, convicted and punished for these crimes.

The article also discussed the reasons why very few are being punished. According to Johnston (2002) one reason is the complexity of white-collar crimes. It is so complex that there are no clear definitions for the purpose of classifying the different kinds of white-collar crimes. The author even expressed that financial crime, computer crime and white-collar crimes are being interchanged.

In another article entitled “White –Collar Plea Bargaining and Sentencing after Booker,” it described the disparity of treatment and application of the law insofar as white collar offenders and blue collar offenders are concerned. It states that blue collar offenders who have stolen a particular amount of money are more likely to receive tougher and stiffer penalty compared to the white collar offenders who have stolen the same amount. (Bibas Stephanos, 2005) It also states that white-collar offenders are more likely to receive plea bargaining and have more chances of being granted probation. (Bibas Stephanos, 2005) This emphasizes the public perception on the issue of white-collar crimes that it is less serious and less grave compared to the blue collar crimes.

Bibas (2005) also stressed that an average of 59% of fraud defendants received straight probation sentences, and the average prison time served was seven months. For tax defendants, the figures were comparable: 57% received straight probation, and the average prison time served was five and a half months.

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