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Matthew Radefeld & Dan Juengel
Matthew A. Radefeld and Daniel A. Juengel

White-collar vs. blue-collar crime: What separates them in the eyes of the law?

On Behalf of | Aug 29, 2022 | White Collar Crimes |

One interesting distinction used by Missouri’s legal system exists between the concepts of white-collar and blue-collar offenses. The terms differ not only by the action of the crime but also by the way they get investigated and prosecuted.

What is white-collar crime?

The FBI classifies a white-collar crime as actions “characterized by deceit, concealment or violation of trust.” The motivation is “to obtain or avoid losing money, property or services or to secure a personal or business advantage.”

One commits a white-collar crime for financial gain.  It can involve an individual or a corporation. White-collar offenses are nonviolent acts and usually do not involve direct contact with victims. The crimes get investigated and prosecuted differently as the white-collar action is likely to be more complex.

Examples of white-collar offenses include embezzlement, securities fraud, corporate fraud and money laundering.

The range of white-collar crimes has vastly evolved with the internet, ever-advancing technology and the latest financial products, inspiring perpetrators that hide behind a screen.

What is blue-collar crime?

Blue-collar crime is typically associated with individuals or entities not part of the “suit and tie” class. The crimes are generally small-scale and committed by perpetrators who aren’t making millions but do see a gain.

The crimes are often a direct action driven by a reaction. For instance, a shoplifter who resists capture is legally seen as a blue-collar criminal. The category includes a fight over a drug deal gone bad. Other blue-collar crimes are burglary, armed robbery, sexual assault and even drug abuse.

The complexity of white collar crime: United States v. Dotterweich

It goes back to 1943, but U.S. v. Dotterweich remains a landmark in the way the court adheres to vicarious and strict ideas of liability in white-collar cases.

The defendant was the general manager and president of a company that purchased third-party drugs. The company repackaged and shipped the products under a new label.

While the defendant proved he did not know of the subterfuge, the law held Dotterweich responsible, prosecuting and convicting him of three charges.

Dotterweich’s appeal went to the Supreme Court which upheld the lower court conviction. Ultimately, Dotterweich was in a position to safeguard the public against the possible risks his employees were taking. The justices argued, that under interstate commerce, the defendant was responsible for his employees’ misbranded and adulterated shipment of drugs. The court said that public welfare should have been directly under the company president’s purview.