Should society throw people into jail who admittedly did nothing blameworthy just to set an example for others? That is exactly what the Center for Progressive Reform has suggested doing in a recent report on the Occupational Safety and Health Act.

In criminal law, the Supreme Court has embraced what is known as the “responsible corporate officer” doctrine, or, as it sometimes is called, the Park doctrine, after the 1975 Supreme Court case that embraced it. Under this doctrine, a corporate officer is personally criminally liable for the actions of his or her employees, regardless of whether the corporate officer knew or should have known of the criminal conduct. The responsible corporate officer doctrine creates a strict liability offense, where the only requirement to convict is that the corporate officer had authority to exercise control over the activity.

In United States v. Park, the FDA prosecuted the president of a corporation under the theory that subordinates committed violations of the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act that he had the ability to prevent or correct. Park, the company president, had delegated responsibility to correct the violations to one of his employees, who, unfortunately for Park, did not carry through on his responsibilities. Park therefore was convicted for FDA violations that he did not commit, order committed, or conspire to commit.

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