White-collar crimes are much different than typical criminal charges. They often do not have immediately apparent victims, and they do not involve violence. In addition, the people who commit these crimes are often higher-income earners in positions of power with no previous criminal record. Because of the differences, there is a lot to consider regarding sentencing for white-collar criminals.
The New York Times explains that many of the concerns are that white-collar criminals get light sentences because they are typically rich and white. The feeling is that judges may hand down sentences based on bias instead of sentences that match the crime, but others say that the sentences match the crime and the accused, just as with any other situation.
Looking at the victims
Often, white-collar crimes where the victim is the government see shorter, less harsh sentences. If a person’s crime had victims who were everyday people who suffered serious losses, then the sentences tend to be harsher. This tends to follow other criminal sentencing where the impact on the victim often plays a role in sentencing. So, it is hard to say that the sentencing is too light when looking at this factor.
Productivity of a convicted person
On the other hand, there is a lot of concern that the similarity between federal judges and those convicted of white-collar crimes may lead to a type of favoritism. Judges may be more inclined to give lighter sentences because they can relate better to the defendant.
Furthermore, judges may see these defendants as more likely to reenter society and be productive than they would other criminal defendants. This can lead to bias.
The biggest issue, though, seems to be criminal history. White-collar criminals generally do not have a criminal history, whereas those with criminal charges often do. Judges in any case will consider the defendant’s criminal history when handing down a sentence, so white-collar cases may naturally result in lighter sentences due to this factor.