While corporate criminal cases are rare in Pennsylvania, companies are not immune from criminal prosecution. If convicted, a trial court may subject a corporation to fines and harsh probation conditions, but it cannot ban the company from operating in the Commonwealth.
In 2013, a New-York based branch of a national fraternity traveled to the Poconos for the final rituals of their pledge process. During one of those rituals, a pledge died. The fraternity itself, among others, was held criminally responsible.
The specific ritual—which they called “the Crossing”—was a gauntlet where members tackled and body-slammed pledges. One pledge died during it. The national president instructed the members to hide the fraternity’s regalia, letters, and other items before police arrived. He also directed the members to lie to police. A jury ultimately convicted the fraternity of involuntary manslaughter and related offenses.
The trial court faced a dilemma: Most of its sentencing options cannot apply to a corporate entity. Because a corporation is a legal entity, it can commit criminal acts, but it lacks a “human” body to punish. The trial court cannot, for example, lock up a corporation for this reason. The trial court, here, opted for fines and probation—one condition of that probation was the outright prohibition on conducting business in Pennsylvania for ten years.
While the Superior Court agreed that the trial court could put a company on probation, it found that the trial court lacked the legal authority to exile a company from the Commonwealth. The probation, it suggested, might require the company to reform its hazing culture, hire new employees, adopt new policies, and even prohibit future contracts with certain parties. Exile, however, was beyond the trial court’s power.
If you or your business are facing criminal charges, it is critical that you have an experienced and knowledgeable Criminal Lawyer on your side. Call Pyfer Reese Straub Gray & Farhat and ask to talk to Attorneys Daniel Bardo, Chris Patterson or Heather Adams.
~Daniel C. Bardo, Esquire