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Too Big to Jail

Too Big to Jail

How Prosecutors Compromise with Corporations

Brandon L. Garrett

ISBN 9780674659919

Publication date: 05/09/2016

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American courts routinely hand down harsh sentences to individual convicts, but a very different standard of justice applies to corporations. Too Big to Jail takes readers into a complex, compromised world of backroom deals, for an unprecedented look at what happens when criminal charges are brought against a major company in the United States.

Federal prosecutors benefit from expansive statutes that allow an entire firm to be held liable for a crime by a single employee. But when prosecutors target the Goliaths of the corporate world, they find themselves at a huge disadvantage. The government that bailed out corporations considered too economically important to fail also negotiates settlements permitting giant firms to avoid the consequences of criminal convictions. Presenting detailed data from more than a decade of federal cases, Brandon Garrett reveals a pattern of negotiation and settlement in which prosecutors demand admissions of wrongdoing, impose penalties, and require structural reforms. However, those reforms are usually vaguely defined. Many companies pay no criminal fine, and even the biggest blockbuster payments are often greatly reduced. While companies must cooperate in the investigations, high-level employees tend to get off scot-free.

The practical reality is that when prosecutors face Hydra-headed corporate defendants prepared to spend hundreds of millions on lawyers, such agreements may be the only way to get any result at all. Too Big to Jail describes concrete ways to improve corporate law enforcement by insisting on more stringent prosecution agreements, ongoing judicial review, and greater transparency.


  • It is a first virtue of Garrett’s book that he places issues around crime in financial institutions in the broader context of corporate crime… Much of what law professors write is prescriptive but without a strong empirical foundation. This has started to change in recent years and Garrett’s work represents a further advance. He is to be hugely commended for the laborious task of compiling a database on every significant corporate prosecution in the 21st century that resulted either in a conviction or some kind of agreement between prosecutors and the corporation in question. Better yet, he makes this data available for other scholars on his university website. In addition to drawing on this database, Garrett provides narratives of some of the major cases that keep the reader at the edge of his seat. The reader emerges with a much greater sense of the complexities involved in responding to corporate crime… Garrett’s data and his narrative provide a textured understanding of [the] trade-offs…in dealing with corporate crime. And he provides a thoughtful and balanced set of recommendations for improving the process through, for example, more judicial involvement in enforcing deferred prosecution arrangements, better efforts to detect corporate crime and more efforts to hold individuals accountable. All of his advice seems reasonable, as does his conclusion that corporate prosecutions themselves are too important to fail… Like the poor, corporate criminals will always be with us. All future considerations of what to do about them should draw on Brandon Garrett’s important work.

    —Lawrence Summers, Financial Times


  • Brandon L. Garrett is the L. Neil Williams, Jr., Professor of Law at Duke University School of Law.

Book Details

  • 384 pages
  • Belknap Press

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