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How is intent proven in white-collar crime cases?

On Behalf of | Jan 9, 2024 | Criminal Law, White-Collar Crime

When someone faces federal criminal charges, the prosecutor faces an evidentiary burden. They must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that someone not only violated the law but intended to do so. Most crimes require criminal intent or mens rea to constitute legal violations. The evidence that the prosecutor has inevitably influences the defense strategy that someone utilizes.

Those who can raise reasonable questions about whether they wanted to break the law could potentially have grounds to defend against pending criminal charges. Some people end up implicated in schemes organized by others without ever intending to break the law or cause financial harm to others.

White-collar crimes often lead to federal prosecution because they involve parties in multiple states and the use of federal infrastructure, such as telecommunications or banking systems. How do federal prosecutors prove intent when pursuing white-collar criminal charges?

Direct evidence of intent is not necessary

Federal prosecutors do not need to record a conversation where someone openly admits to defrauding others for personal gain. Federal mail and wire fraud statutes do not require direct evidence of criminal intent.

Instead, the courts should consider the totality of the circumstances when reviewing someone’s conduct for an intent to defraud others. Often, prosecutors need only establish that someone’s communications with others involved a reckless indifference to the accuracy of their statement. Sending out an email to prospective investors radically exaggerating the likely returns on an investment could help prosecutors establish that someone had fraudulent intent.

Additionally, the way that a white-collar scheme operates can itself establish intent to defraud. Someone misleading or manipulating individual investors or businesses likely conducted certain actions with the intent to injure or defraud those parties. In fact, the fraud does not need to be successful to lead to prosecution.

Negotiations related to white-collar crime cases

No actual financial losses are necessary for the government to bring charges provided that there is evidence supporting the claim that they intended to cause financial harm to others. Questions about intent often feature heavily in the negotiations related to white-collar criminal charges. Some defense attorneys can undermine the state’s case by raising questions about someone’s intent and showing that they acted without any desire to cause financial harm to others.

Learning about how the government builds white-collar criminal cases may benefit those hoping to avoid a conviction after an indictment. Seeking personalized legal guidance proactively can help to provide necessary clarity in this regard.