Are corporate officers immune from personal criminal liability?

A standard answer to the above blog headline is that, yes, executives in a corporation are usually immune from civil and criminal actions that posit wrongdoing and third-party damages (e.g., to consumers or a government entity).

The key word in the previous sentence is “usually. “It is simply not the case that a corporate officer or director can never be held personally liable for criminal conduct ostensibly carried out by the corporation itself.

It is certainly true that a touted benefit of the corporate form is its recognized ability to serve as a legal structure that specifically does safeguard its employees against personal liability. It is commonly assumed that company actions (mergers, sales, loans taken out and so forth) are taken for the benefit of the business generally. As such, courts have long gone after the entity and not individuals working within it when seeking redress for criminal acts.

That assumption comes with a disclaimer, though, as noted in a recent overview stressing that corporate officials can be viewed as having only limited liability protection for a business’s actions. In legal terms, a court can “pierce the corporate veil” that customarily shields them and hold them personally responsible for criminal acts and resulting damages.

The above article notes some examples of when a court might do that. Those include instances where a corporation and its owners are virtually indistinguishable from each other or when a corporation was created to promote unlawful goals (for example, money laundering or drug trafficking).

The parameters of liability are always something to be considered in the corporate context, notwithstanding a general assumption of personal immunity. A seasoned criminal defense legal team with proven experience defending clients in corporate criminal liability matters can provide further information.