The justice system in the United States prosecutes corporate officers such as CEOs in criminal or civil cases based on “strict liability”. Strict liability is the principle that the officer is responsible for the crime regardless of knowledge of wrongdoing or intent to do wrong. This principle was derived from the Dotterweich Doctrine (1943) and the Park Doctrine (1975). In 1943, Mr. Dotterweich, a CEO of a pharmaceutical company shipped adulterated drugs into interstate commerce and was therefore charged with a misdemeanor. Mr. Dotterweich argued that he did not know that the drugs were adulterated, However, this did not matter, the courts held that being the responsible officer he was ultimately responsible.
Another similar case happened in 1973 where a Mr. Park shipped rodent infested food from one of his warehouses into interstate commerce. The difference with this case is that Mr. Park was far removed from the warehouse that shipped the goods. He was the CEO of a company who had many warehouses. He was not in touch with what was happening in the day to day operations of each. This did not matter, as the courts held that he was still responsible.
Reference: Sanchez, M. C. 2015. Food law and regulation for non-lawyers – A US perspective. New York, NY: Springer International.