The legal doctrine of “conscious avoidance,” provides that a defendant who deliberately shields himself from clear evidence of critical facts is considered equally liable as one who has actual knowledge. The doctrine, also referred to as “willful blindness,” can be critical in complex white-collar criminal cases, where the defendant’s awareness of others’ wrongful conduct is commonly a central issue.
The U.S. Supreme Court  addressed the conscious avoidance doctrine in 2011 in the case of Global-Tech Appliances Inc. v. SEB S.A., 131 S. Ct. 2060, 2063 (U.S. May 31, 2011), a civil patent litigation that presented the question of whether willful blindness satisfied the mental state necessary to prove that a party actively induced patent infringement. The Court’s decision set forth a two-prong test or requirements for determining conscious avoidance including: 1) the defendant must subjectively believe that there is a high probability that a fact exists and (2) the defendant must take deliberate actions to avoid learning of that fact.
Circuit Court Applications of Supreme Court Decision
Subsequent to the Supreme Court decision in Global-Tech, the Third Circuit revised its model jury instructions to mirror Global- Tech’s two-prong test and expressly educate jurors that they must find a mental state that exceeds recklessness. See United States v. Caraballo-Rodriguez, 786 F.3d 418 (3d Cir. 2013). This varies from the Second Circuit which interpreted Global-Tech as a mere synopsis of existing circuit law rather than as a change in substantive law (U.S. v. Goffer, 721 F.3d 113 (2013)) as well as the Seventh Circuit which has reserved application for use only in civil cases. (United States v. Salinas, 763 F.3d 869).
Because the circuit courts have not uniformly applied the Supreme Court’s ruling, it is important to speak to a white collar crime attorney at Koffsky & Felsen, LLC to discuss the specific applications to your case.
Recent Case Law Involving Conscious Avoidance
U.S. v. Sigelman: In June of 2015, 5 ½ of 6 counts were dropped, including all of the most serious charges, filed against Joseph Sigelman, the co-founder and co-CEO of Columbian Oil Company. The government accepted Mr. Sigelman’s conscious avoidance plead  which allowed him to plead to a form of criminal negligence instead of actual knowledge. This resulted in a sentence of probation without jail time and financial penalties that were only a small fraction of what had been initially sought by the government.
U.S. v. Collins: In October of 2014, the 2nd Circuit affirmed the conviction of Joseph Collins, who had been charged with aiding client Refco Inc.’s 1 billion-dollar account fraud. The Circuit Court dismissed the claim that the trial judge had wrongfully allowed jurors to find the defendant guilty under the theory of conscious avoidance as opposed to actual knowledge.
Contact White Collar Conscious Avoidance Lawyers
The law in this area varies from circuit to circuit and continues to evolve after the Supreme Court ruling in Global-Tech. If you have been charged with a white collar crime, it is imperative to speak to a conscious avoidance attorney at Koffsky & Felsen, LLC to determine any and all defenses and arguments that can be presented on your behalf.
Our proficient attorneys are available to review all of the specifics associated with your case. Please call today at 203-327-1500.