How intent is determined in white-collar crimes

On Behalf of | May 30, 2024 | White Collar Offenses |

Criminal activity generally involves two components. Prosecutors who take cases to trial typically need evidence both that someone violated the law and that they intended to do so. Criminal intent can be very easy to establish in some cases. Someone who commits a violent crime in a sudden rage may shout that they intend to harm or kill the person they attack.

Those engaged in white-collar criminal activity and financial crimes are unlikely to announce their intent publicly, as it might prevent them from securing positions where they could engage in fraudulent activity or other financial crimes. Someone accused of embezzlement, fraud or another white-collar crime could potentially use a lack of intent as part of their defense strategy.

How do prosecutors establish criminal intent in white-collar cases?

Electronic communications and witnesses

Some of the easiest ways to prove someone’s criminal intent involve verifying that they knew they did something inappropriate and hoped to profit from their actions. Electronic communications with co-conspirators or conversations about how profitable financial misconduct has been could help establish criminal intent in a white-collar case. Often, the goal is to prove that someone knew their actions were inappropriate and that they engaged in them despite that awareness because of a desire for financial gain.

Educational or employment records

In some cases, prosecutors do not find any proverbial smoking guns in the form of witnesses or emails. However, they could use the defendant’s personal history to develop their criminal case. For example, proving that someone took classes that looked at fraudulent activity could help show that they knew the exact type of behavior they engaged in was potentially a crime. Employment history could also provide insight into someone’s mindset and awareness of the law.

There have been cases where people have attempted to prove that they lacked the capacity to have criminal intent because of brain injuries, but such strategies are not typically successful. There have been scenarios in which those accused of financial fraud have gotten convicted on some charges but acquitted of others because there was not adequate evidence of their criminal intent.

Someone accused of a white-collar criminal offense could question their alleged criminal intent, possibly by showing that what looks like a crime on the outside was an unintentional mistake. Reviewing the state’s evidence before going to trial could help those who intend to fight allegations of white-collar criminal activity.