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Corporate criminal liability is the liability imposed upon a corporation for any criminal act done by any natural person. Liability is imposed so as to regulate the acts of a corporation. The principle of corporate criminal liability is based on the doctrine of respondent superior which is commonly known as the theory of vicarious liability, where the master is made liable for the acts of his servant. Any corporation can be made liable for act of its agent or servant if s/he :
1.commits a crime;
2. acts within the scope of employment;
3. with the intent to benefit the corporation.
The doctrine grew out of the common law doctrine that masters were criminally liable if their servants created a public nuisance or caused harm to persons’ or property. The doctrine further developed through judicial interpretation of common law and also the existing statutory law.
For example, the Alabama code makes certain that a corporate agent is not exempted from personal criminal liability merely because all or part of his/her conduct is committed in the name of a corporation or for the corporation's benefit. The provision of the code is founded on the fundamental principle of criminal responsibility that one should be personally liable for his/her criminal acts and whereby one may be legally accountable if s/he intentionally causes an incapacitated or exempted person to engage in criminal conduct. (Code of Ala. § 13A-2-26)
The corporation will be made liable for any act done by an agent which is actually not authorised by the corporation. (Washington Gaslight Co. v. Lansden, 172 U.S. 534, 544.)