White collar crime tends to refer to crimes committed at a business by a businessman or woman. Such crimes might include embezzlement or fraud. Criminology expert and sociologist Edwin Sutherland came up with the term in a 1939 speech. He posited that people are more likely to commit crimes when they are surrounded by criminal behavior of others. This philosophy relates to punishment of white collar crime by the US justice system. This type of criminal is sometimes considered less likely to commit another crime, and punishment may be softer than for crimes involving violence.
Today, the definition may also refer to the socio-economic status of the person committing the crime. A person from the middle or upper classes commits a white collar crime simply because of his origin. However, if the crime is violent in nature, it would likely not be described using this term.
Most people believe that white collar crime is a less punishable offense, than a mugging where violence is threatened or a similar crime. However, crimes like embezzlement, the stealing of company funds, may ultimately harm more people. If the money cannot be recovered, a criminal might technically steal all the savings of people who depend upon those savings in order to live. This criminal has caused more damage by his actions than the mugger, but the mugger may be more likely to receive a stiffer sentence.
Since white collar crime tends to occur among those of higher socio-economic standing, an advantage is gained. Most people can afford a better lawyer to argue in their defense. Those of lower socio-economic standing are not likely to be able to afford a private lawyer and must rely on public defense attorneys. It has been statistically shown that most clients fare better with a private lawyer.
Generally, a white collar criminal also has the advantage of being housed in a minimum-security prison. Such an environment offers greater freedom and is generally considered a safer environment than maximum-security prisons. Thus this type of crime is often not considered with the same gravity as other offenses, even when a person has damaged the lives of others beyond repair.