The historic legal fiction that corporations are entities that are distinct from the parties running them might work and make sense for some purposes — but when it comes to criminal responsibility for criminal misconduct by corporate officials, it is bad public policy.
This corporate-personal shell game — which is not at all limited to Halliburton, as recent mortgage, stock and banking scandals have proved — means that rich corporations can buy their way out of criminal responsibility in most cases. But a kid who robs a 7-Eleven of a few hundred dollars and is caught is likely to go to prison and see his life ruined. My now-deceased father used to lament that if a small debtor owed a small amount to a banker or creditor, he’d be hammered, while a tycoon who owed zillions usually could work out some settlement. Better to owe a lot, he’d posit, than a little.
The same thought applies to criminal responsibility. If we are ever to deter serious, far-flung criminal behavior by corporations, the guilty officials ought to face criminal prosecution. If not a sure deterrent of serious corporate crimes, it would be an example of democratic justice.