As a general rule, criminal liability requires criminal intent. The legal term of art, “Mens Rea,” (Latin for “guilty mind”), stands for the concept that deliberate wrongdoing is a condition precedent to criminality. It is based on the principle that society should not punish people for unintended violations of law. There are, however, exceptions to this rule—so-called strict-liability offenses.
With strict-liability, the perpetrator’s intent and awareness of wrongdoing are irrelevant. Speeding, for example is a strict liability offense. It does not matter whether the driver intended to speed or was aware they were speeding. Absent extraordinary circumstances, the driver is guilty of speeding purely by virtue of having exceeded the speed limit. Like speeding, violating the Food Drug and Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act) is a strict-liability offense.
The Responsible Corporate Officer Doctrine (RCOD), colloquially known as the “Park Doctrine,” is a controversial prosecutorial tool that allows for the criminal prosecution of companies and officers, regardless of whether they had unlawful intent or awareness of the violation. In U.S. v. Dotterweich, the Supreme Court explained that FD&C Act prosecutions dispense “with the conventional requirement for criminal conduct—awareness of some wrongdoing. In the interest of the larger good it puts the burden of acting at hazard upon a person otherwise innocent but standing in responsible relation to a public danger.”
In the decades since Dotterweich, federal prosecutors have routinely used the RCOD to successfully prosecute corporations and officers for FD&C Act violations. To obtain a conviction for an FD&C Act violation, prosecutors must prove each of the following beyond a reasonable doubt:
- The corporate officer was in a position of responsibility relevant to the violation;
- The corporate officer was able or authorized to prevent or correct the violation; and
- The corporate officer failed to prevent the violation.
RCOD jurisprudence, or case law, is both interesting and instructive. The written opinions of judges and justices are more than a mere conveyance of a rule’s meaning. They tell a story, putting the rule in meaningful context. Often, the story is far more instructive than the analysis of the rule. The story teaches us how to avoid unwittingly coming into conflict with the rule.| | | Next → | Single Page