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Is white collar crime prosecution on the decline?

Those facing white collar criminal charges are probably understandably nervous and stressed at the prospect of spending significant time behind bars or paying thousands (if not millions) of dollars in fines. But according to recent data, white collar criminal prosecutions are falling across the United States.

In an opinion piece for the Washington Post, Catherine Rampell makes the case that, despite some high-profile white-collar criminal cases in the news recently, the U.S. is actually on track for the fewest prosecutions in over 30 years (as far as the data goes).

What the numbers say

According to numbers released by Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, we’re on pace to have less than 6,000 cases of federal prosecutions of white-collar crime. The same can be said for federal prosecution of corruption: the 300 something cases projected this year will be the lowest recorded total since the data collection began. The falling numbers are consistent for prosecutions referred by the Internal Revenue Service, as well.

This trend is surprising to some, considering the growth in population across the U.S.

Why the falling rates?

While there are many possible explanation, one theory that Rampell floats is that resources are being directed to other kinds of prosecution—namely, in cases involving immigration offenses. While plausible, it’s important to note that the downward trend began in the last years of the Obama administration.

What do the falling rates mean?

In general, even though fewer cases are prosecuted at the federal level, white-collar crime remains a legal issue that should be addressed quickly. Any lapses in legal representation can increase the chances of a conviction, even in weaker cases.

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