White Collar or Blue? Differences in Criminal Law

by Stacy Aspen on November 24, 2013

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(U.S. Criminal Law and generally) The distinction between white collar and blue collar crime is an important one for police and for criminologists; in seeking to develop initiatives to prevent crime, society must understand how criminals operate. The legal system rarely makes distinctions between blue and white collar crime; in fact, colors are not legal terms at all. However, the distinction between blue and white collar crime can significantly impact all aspects of an offense, from arrest to prosecution.

Blue Collar Crime

Blue collar is colloquialism applied to positions involving significant amounts of manual labor. The term is typically applied to positions involving low skill levels and low wages, although not every blue collar position matches that description. As such, many people call criminal activities involving significant amounts of manual labor that are committed by indigent defendants “blue collar crime.” The characterization includes all violent crimes and a number of property crimes, including but not limited to assault, robbery, burglary and murder.

For the most part, blue collar crime is categorized by high risks and low rewards. High clearance rates are the norm; in 2010, law enforcement agencies in Minnesota cleared 79 percent of homicides, 68 percent of aggravated assaults, 44 percent of rapes, and 26 percent of robberies.

A few crimes like burglary and property theft had much lower clearance rates in the same jurisdiction over the same period, but the rates are still normally higher than clearance rates for white collar crimes. Arson, which had only four percent of offenses cleared by arrest, still has a higher clearance rate than credit card fraud. Reported losses for most blue collar crimes are normally in the hundreds of dollars.

Sentencing for blue collar crimes hinges upon the specific offense charged and what occurred during its commission. Many blue collar crimes involve confronting the victim directly; crimes such as murder, aggravated assault, and robbery necessarily require the offender to encounter the victim. Even crimes committed by defendants who are actively looking to avoid a confrontation with the victim, such as burglars, still entail a risk of a confrontation. A burglary can easily turn into a robbery. As such, the penalties for blue collar crime tend to be more severe than other types of crime. Sentences are longer, perpetrators are incarcerated in higher security institutions, and probation or parole can be more difficult to obtain.

White Collar Crime

According to the attorneys at www.devorelawoffice.com, white collar crimes “take on a variety of forms and concern a significant array of different subject matters.” White collar is a term used by society to denote professionals and those who perform administrative tasks. The term references the standard white collar of a dress shirt. White collar workers are typically skilled workers who perform creative and critical thinking tasks to resolve a wide variety of problems.

White collar crime is a term that applies to a wide variety of conducts committed in such settings by such people. It includes certain nonviolent crimes like fraud, embezzlement, insider trading, and identity theft. White collar crime is distinguished from blue collar crime in two important ways.

First, the cases are very difficult to prosecute. In many cases where one stranger defrauds another, identifying the perpetrator will be difficult. Even proving that someone used fraudulent information does not mean that he or she initially took the information or knowingly committed any offense. Even in the event of an embezzlement or identity theft where the victim knows the defendant, victims are often reluctant to prosecute the case; if the victim initially entrusted the property or information to the defendant, proving theft is often difficult. These factors drive clearance rates down.

Second, white collar offenses are often far more complex than blue collar offenses. A white collar grand theft may involve setting up a network of shell companies that produce phony invoices which the perpetrator approves on behalf of his or her employer; a blue collar grand theft may involve breaking a car window, grabbing a used laptop computer, and running away. This means that identifying that a crime has taken place is more difficult and that the crimes are committed by more sophisticated defendants who are more likely to eliminate the evidence trail.

Sentencing used to be another distinguishing factor. Kevin W. Devore, an attorney that can be found at www.devorelawoffice.com, states that white collar crime punishments, “can include fines, restitutions, and jail or prison time.” Significant frauds perpetrated by white collar criminals like Bernie Madoff in recent years has raised public awareness of the issue. Committing a white collar fraud often requires the defendant to commit other criminal acts including wire fraud and mail fraud. Cases that are vigorously prosecuted often result in so many counts that the penalties can amount to a life sentence if the sentences are served concurrently.

While blue collar and white collar are not legal terms, the distinction between the two types of crime is still important to the legal system. Crimes involving violence normally result in longer prison sentences and more vigorous prosecution than those without the threat of physical harm. White collar crimes without a sympathetic victim are often viewed as less severe, the cases are far more difficult to prove, and the defendants are much less likely to get caught. However, the crime is no less serious and the prosecution no less real. Anyone facing any criminal charges should seek legal counsel immediately.

Stacy Aspen

Stacy Aspen

Stacy Aspen has been a legal writer since 2008, assisting lawyers with articles, research papers, web copy and blog posts. Stacy has a BA in creative writing and also enjoys writing poetry in her spare time.

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