Volkswagen has had longstanding claims of environmental consciousness. The company has been selling clean diesel vehicle models that they claim help to reduce emissions.
But earlier this September, Volkswagen’s clean philosophy was outed in a scandal heard ’round the world. Since 2009, the company has been installing software in 482,000 of the “clean diesel” vehicles that made the pollution controls work only when they were being tested.
Otherwise, the German vehicles were free to emit hazardous chemicals into the atmosphere. Soon after, the Environmental Protection Agency announced that the company violated the Clean Air Act, demanded they fixed their vehicles, and were slammed with fines of up to $18 billion.
And now, Volkswagen may even be facing criminal law charges from the Department of Justice.
According to Vox, the cars have emitted enough nitrogen oxides into the atmosphere that they have the potential of killing hundreds of people annually.
Why criminal law charges? Aside from the obvious justice that needs to be served, experts feel that taking this issue to the courts will set an example for future companies who face similar allegations.
“The long-term goal here is to have people in all organizations, including corporations, doing the right thing,” said criminal justice expert Mark Kleiman in one of his several blog posts that argue against Volkswagen.
“Criminal law and civil law are just means to an end,” Kleiman wrote. “But categorizing something as a crime does change people’s attitudes toward it. And I think there’s a relaxed environment toward health and safety regulations, and that needs to change”.
According to Kleiman, the company is liable to face voluntary manslaughter charges at a state level, and an 18 USC 1001 at a federal level, meaning that making a material false statement to federal officials — including the Environmental Protection Agency — is considered a felony.
As far as official criminal law charges go, only time will tell for the long-standing Volkswagen.