It seems likely that what Sutherland meant by this is absence from convictions for crimes other than white collar crimes. The element of ‘high social status’ as used in the definition also leads to confusion: Clearly it has far narrower meaning than is given to that term in everyday usage.
Sutherland himself did not stick to this meaning and included thefts and frauds committed by middle or even lower middle-class workers in course of their employment or work. Some critics have suggested that such crimes should have been called as ‘occupational crimes’ instead of being termed as ‘white collar crime’.
It is further argued that in fact the important element in the definition of white collar crime is not the socio-economic status of the individual, but rather the type of crime and the circumstances of its commission. These usually include pilfering, false accounting, bribery, embezzlement etc.
Tax-evasion is not an authentic white collar crime, at least in terms of Sutherland’s definition because although associated with work, it is not committed in the course of an occupation. Some critics further allege that such violations come within the purview of the Special Commissions, Tribunals and Boards instead of normal criminal justice administrators.
Therefore, strictly speaking, they cannot result into conviction of the offender and hence he cannot be called ‘criminal’ in real sense of the term. Commenting on this aspect of the issue, Tappan observes that treating persons committing white collar crime as criminals would mean deviating from legal definition of crime inasmuch as personal value considerations of the administrator would gain primary in place of precision and clarity of legal provisions in deciding such case.
Sutherland, however, justifies the special procedure of trial for white collar criminals by administrative agencies on the ground that it would protect the offender from the stigma of criminal prosecution.
Another criticism quite often advanced against Sutherland’s definition of white collar crime is that it includes even those violations of law which are not committed in course of occupation or profession and these violations do not necessarily belong to upper strata of society or the so-called ‘prestigeous groups’. For example, tax evasion is not committed only by persons of high status but it can be committed by persons belonging to middle or even lower strata of society.
Yet another objection against the definition of white collar crime is that it does not necessarily require mens rea which is an essential ingredient of a crime. The doctrine of mens rea based on common law has no application to statutory offences in India and the requirement of guilty mind may be excluded either expressly or by implication in such cases.