Michigan Law Students to Document Environmental Crime Prosecutions

Law students at the University of Michigan are on a quest to document every federal environmental crime prosecution from 2005 to 2010.

They are being led by Michigan Law School Professor David Uhlmann.

“I am currently working with over 100 Michigan Law students on a large scale empirical study of criminal cases investigated by the Environmental Protection Agency that resulted in criminal prosecution from 2005 through 2010,” Uhlmann told Corporate Crime Reporter in an interview last week.

“There has never been a study of this kind conducted in the United States. One of my frustrations when I was at the Justice Department was that we were never able to access information about all of the cases that were being prosecuted under the environmental laws. When the Michigan Environmental Crimes Project is complete later this year, we will be able to make that information available, not only to prosecutors, but to other government officials, defense attorneys, and members of the general public who want to learn more about what environmental crimes are prosecuted, who charges are brought against, what the outcomes are.”

How many such cases are there?

“There are nearly 1,000 defendants who were prosecuted over a six-year period for various types of environmental crime,” Uhlmann said.

Many of those cases are multiple defendant cases. How many core cases are there?

“Several hundred – it’s in the 600 to 700 range.”

When do you expect to finish?

“Our hope is that the research will be finished by the end of April. I expect to spend much of my time this summer writing up the results of the project.”

“A big part of what we are trying to do, in addition to pulling together data about criminal prosecutions, is looking at how prosecutorial discretion is exercised in environmental cases.”

“A few years ago I wrote an article for the Utah Law Review responding to critics of environmental criminal enforcement who say that prosecutors have too much discretion in the environmental context.”

“I suggested that most environmental crimes involve environmental harm or public health effects, false or deceptive conduct, companies that operate totally outside the regulatory system, or facilities that have years of violations.”

“At the time I could not prove that my observations about how prosecutors exercise their discretion were correct. But when this study is complete, we should be in a better position to say what makes environmental cases criminal.”

Of those several hundred core cases, what percentage of them are major corporations?

“We are coding for corporate size in two ways – annual revenues and number of employees at the companies involved. I don’t yet have data about what percentage of the cases involve major corporations, but most environmental crime occurs in the corporate context.”

How are you getting the information for this study?

“The cases are all filed cases. We are working from the court documents. Most are available electronically. In some districts, particularly for older cases, we are calling the clerks’ offices and obtaining the documents the old fashioned way.”

“The data and all of the accompanying court documents will be available at a website we will create for the Michigan Environmental Crimes Project so that everybody involved in the prosecution and defense of environmental crime, as well as members of the public, will have a better understanding of environmental crime.”

[For the complete question/answer transcript of the Interview with David Uhlmann, see 26 Corporate Crime Reporter 12(12), March 19, 2012, print edition only.]



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