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Report: Corporate Prosecutions Reach Record Low Under Biden

Public Citizen Urges More Corporate Prosecutions to Match DOJ’s Changes in Enforcement Policy

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Corporate prosecutions under President Joe Biden remain in the abyss after reaching record lows under President Donald Trump, according to new government data analyzed in a Public Citizen report released today. Only 90 corporations either pled guilty or were found guilty of federal crimes in 2021, despite ostensible policy shifts by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) toward tougher enforcement.

Federal prosecutions of corporate criminals plunged into double digits for the first time in 25 years under President Trump, down to record lows of 99 in 2018 and 94 in 2020. Corporate prosecutions have now fallen by two-thirds from the peak of 296 in 2000. The report outlines several recent DOJ policy shifts that should lead to higher levels of enforcement.

“The Biden DOJ’s policy changes away from Trump’s soft-on-corporate-crime approach suggest enforcement against corporate lawbreakers should be ramping up, but the numbers for 2021 don’t reflect those changes,” said Rick Claypool, a research director for Public Citizen and author of the report. “Deterring corporate monopolists, polluters, fraudsters, and workplace abusers requires the DOJ to bring tough prosecutions. It’s the only way to show Big Business that the cost of crime outweighs any perceived benefit of profit-driven lawbreaking. U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland must prioritize prosecuting these cases, and President Biden and Congress need to provide the DOJ with the resources to do the job.”

The report also reveals the simultaneous trends of declining corporate prosecutions and increasing corporate leniency agreements: deferred prosecution agreements and non-prosecution agreements. Leniency agreements made up a quarter (26%) of all resolutions of federal cases against corporations accused of crimes in 2021. This is down from Trump’s final year, when nearly a third (32%) of corporate crime cases were resolved in this way.

The report covers fiscal year 2021 and is based on an analysis of federal corporate prosecution data from the U.S. Sentencing Commission and the Corporate Prosecution Registry – a joint project of Duke University and the University of Virginia that tracks criminal enforcement actions against corporations.