A recent wave of expressive accounts of corporate criminal law operate on the promise that corporate punishment can express a unique form of condemnation not capturable through civil enforcement. Unfortunately, the realities of corporate sentencing have thus far failed to make good on this expressive promise. Viewed in light of existing conventions that imbue meaning into our practices of punishment, corporate sentences rarely impose hard treatment in a manner or degree that these conventions seem to require. Accordingly, standard corporate sanctions turn out to be ill-suited to deliver—and, often, will likely undermine—the stigmatic punch upon which expressive defenses of corporate criminal law depend. A common response to this conventional problem with corporate sentencing has been to propose more, and harsher, corporate punishments. However, this approach overlooks the extent to which corporate punishment derives its stigmatic force from preexisting norms and conventions concerning individual punishment.

If trying to improve corporate punishment, then, expressivists might instead seek either to leverage or to dismantle the underlying conventions that give existing sanctions meaning. An example of the former strategy would be to revitalize long-neglected proposals for corporate shaming by adopting a criminal convention currently absent from the corporate space—namely, the pervasive, stigmatic application of epithets like “thief” or “felon.” An example of the latter would be to join criminal justice reformers in targeting conventions that, in recent decades, have enabled increasingly draconian sentencing practices. On this view, dissolving corporate sentencing’s conventional problem may represent a further, incidental benefit of systemic criminal justice reform.

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