Critics Condemn Department of Justice's Deferred Prosecution of GM for Deadly Auto Defect

Posted Sept. 23, 2015

MP3 Interview with Rena Steinzor, professor of law at the University of Maryland, conducted by Scott Harris


Officials at the U.S. Department of Justice have opted not to prosecute General Motors executives for their decision to withhold public information about the installation of defective ignition switches into 2.6 million of the company's vehicles, a failure that cost the lives of more than 124 people and injured 274. Instead, General Motors will pay $900 million in penalties, enter into what's called a deferred prosecution agreement, and be monitored for three years.

A federal court judge recently sentenced former Peanut Corporation of America owner Stewart Parnell to 28 years in prison for knowingly distributing peanut butter that spawned a deadly outbreak of salmonella poisoning that killed nine people and sickened 714 others. It appears that new guidelines recently issued by the Justice Department, calling for more rigorous prosecution of corporate executives engaged in criminal wrongdoing, doesn't apply to giant, powerful companies like GM.

Critics say that the current system, which allows large corporations to evade responsibility for malfeasance that harms consumers can be remedied by passing federal legislation that will make it a crime for corporate officers to knowingly conceal serious dangers that lead to consumer or worker deaths or injuries. Between The Lines' Scott Harris spoke with Rena Steinzor, professor at the University of Maryland School of Law, who explains why she condemns the Department of Justice decision not to prosecute GM executives and describes pending legislation that could ensure corporate leaders are held accountable for their actions.

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