A few examples:

These acts prompted suspicions of money laundering and cover-ups, and gross negligence. Why are these public figures typically fired, or "voluntarily resign," instead of being prosecuted for crimes that they could plausibly be accused of? Is it a case of the law not being applied to the powerful and well-connected, or are there other legal reasons?

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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because this isn't about laws, it's about politics and policy.
    – user6726
    Aug 13, 2016 at 14:24
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    What makes you think that any of those things are criminal, or that if they were criminal resigning would have anything to do with whether they were prosecuted?
    – cpast
    Aug 13, 2016 at 17:46
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    @Pedro Embezzlement is illegal, but in what sense is what the Iceland PM did embezzlement? How the hell did you get the notion that it's "hiding evidence" for a police department to not release a video to the public? I mean, it wouldn't be illegal for a taxi company to not proactively release a video of a shooting by their driver to anyone either, but in this case the organization that didn't release the video was also the one in charge of investigating the shooting.
    – cpast
    Aug 14, 2016 at 3:11
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    As for the EPA official, "endangering public health" is not a federal crime as far as I can tell. In any event, laws tend to punish action, not inaction. The EPA isn't directly involved in the provision of water, they're just regulating. Michigan has some laws about public officers who fail to perform their duty, with a fairly high mens rea requirement. Federal law doesn't really have an equivalent. Being bad at your job results in you being fired or resigning. Outside of the military, it takes a whole lot more than that for it to become worthy of criminal prosecution.
    – cpast
    Aug 14, 2016 at 3:36
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    @user6726 I believe this question in some manner deals with legal ethics, particularly with prosecutorial discretion that is a pertinent legal topic.
    – Viktor
    Aug 18, 2016 at 0:55

2 Answers 2


I will address only the legal issues.

Prosecutors for very good public policy reasons are not required to prosecute every crime they have suspicions about.

When exercising this discretion they consider:

  1. Is the act, in fact, criminal - many of the things you list, while reprehensible, unethical, and possibly immoral are not actually criminal.
  2. Do they have the resources (time, staff, money) to collect the evidence and run this case as opposed to the thousands of other crimes out there. There are always more crimes than can be prosecuted and these have to be prioritised in some way.
  3. Do they have enough evidence to gain a conviction beyond reasonable doubt. People can be fired or resign on suspicion, they can't be convicted on it.
  • I posted my own answer, which I think comes closer to answering my question, but I upvoted yours as well because it helps illustrate how even actual criminal cases must be prioritized, so it's no wonder that more ambiguous cases are not always prosecuted.
    – Pedro
    Aug 17, 2016 at 23:37

This interview with the man who served as the lead prosecutor on the Enron Task Force clarifies some of my questions. In essence, as one of the other answers mentioned, just because someone committed a careless/immoral/negligent act doesn't make it criminal according to the law. And establishing that there was actual malice and intent to deceive, which could be more clearly categorized as criminal, is difficult to prove in large organizations where there is no one clear bad actor.

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