During the panel session on DOJ non-prosecution and deferred prosecution agreements last week at the Corporate Crime Reporter sponsored conference in Washington, D.C., I shared my belief that it seems like DOJ is clearly troubled, with good reason, by traditional notions of corporate criminal liability.  (See here for the prior post when I said the same thing about Lanny Breuer’s NPA/DPA speech last September).  However, rather than seek substantive solutions to this issue, the DOJ defends an alternate reality (NPAs / DPAs) that are equally problematic.

After listening to fellow panelist Denis McInerney (DOJ, Deputy Assistant Attorney General) describe the goals of DOJ prosecution – among other things, to better promote compliance and to hold individuals accountable – I offered a solution in the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act context that could help the DOJ achieve these laudable goals.

Have a compliance defense and abolish NPAs and DPAs.

A compliance defense, along the lines I outlined in my article “Revisiting a Foreign Corrupt Practices Act Compliance Defense,” would not eliminate corporate criminal liability.  Far from it.  Rather, a compliance defense would only apply when, notwithstanding a company’s pre-existing compliance policies and procedures and its good-faith efforts to comply the law, a non-executive employee or agent acts contrary to those policies and procedures in violation of the law.

If a company did not have pre-existing compliance policies and procedures, it could not avail itself of a compliance defense.  Similarly, even if a company did have pre-existing compliance policies and procedures, the company could not avail itself of a compliance defense if executive officers or employees (a concept already used in the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines) were involved in the improper conduct.

If this were the framework governing corporate criminal liability, then NPAs and DPAs should be abolished and the DOJ would return to the historical choice of two options:  charge or do not charge.

At the conference, I stated my genuine belief that such a two-step reform would better incentive more robust corporate compliance, reduce improper conduct, and thus best advance the FCPA’s objectives of reducing bribery.  Such a two-step reform would also increase public confidence in FCPA enforcement actions and allow the DOJ to better allocate its limited prosecutorial resources to cases involving corrupt business organizations and the individuals who actually engaged in the improper conduct.  (See the article for additional details).

In short, this two-step reform will better allow the DOJ to achieve many of the objectives McInerney articulated.

However, not surprisingly, McInerney’s response to my two-step reform was the comment that this would be like returning to the “dark ages.”

The question is why?

Presumably most countries have an incentive to better promote compliance and to hold individuals accountable for wrongdoing.  Does this mean that the following OECD Convention countries that have a compliance-like defense relevant to their FCPA-like laws are living in the “dark ages” – Australia, Chile, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Japan, Korea, Poland, Portugal, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom.  (See here).

Are Stanley Sporkin (former Director of the SEC Division of Enforcement, among other positions), James Doty (current head of the PCAOB), and Andrew Weissmann (former Director of the Enron Task Force and current General Counsel of the FBI) all living in the “dark ages”?  All have supported compliance-like defenses or concepts relevant to the FCPA.  (See here, here, and here).

Are former Attorney Generals Michael Mukasey and Alberto Gonzales or other former high-ranking DOJ officials such as Larry Thompson living in the “dark ages”? (See here, here, and here).  Is former DOJ FCPA Unit chief Joseph Covington living in the “dark ages.”  (See here).

Or have all these individuals, and others who support an FCPA compliance defense, seen the light and it’s the DOJ who is living in the “dark ages”?