Questions for a White Collar Defender

In an interview with Law360, a web based legal news site, attorney Sean Hecker discussed his career. Hecker defends in white collar criminal and U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission investigations. He is a partner in Debevoise & Plimpton LLP’s white collar practice group in New York. Before joining Debevoise in 2006, he was a trial attorney with the Federal Defenders of New York.

Hecker reported that the most challenging and rewarding case he has been involved in was a two-year internal investigation of corruption issues regarding Siemens AG Compliance Committee. This involved investigations in different countries with different languages, cultures and legal systems, with constant travel and time management issues. While challenging, this case allowed him to learn how to deal with those challenges and to work with team members he admires.

Hecker believes sentencing reform stands out as an issue that needs to change. He feels the incarceration rates in the United States are greater than those in the rest of the developed world because of mandatory minimum sentences, prosecutorial charging decisions, and reliance on long periods of incarceration as punishment for nonviolent crimes.

Hecker is also watching the issue of “territorial jurisdiction” in his practice area. The U.S. Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission take jurisdiction over foreign entities who use U.S. mail, any other type of interstate commerce, or any act relating to corrupt payment in the territory of the United States. The DOJ and SEC believe de minimis contact in the U.S. is sufficient for territorial jurisdiction. Foreign entities rarely challenge this jurisdiction, but individuals have had more success. Hecker feels this issue bears close attention.

Hecker shared the story of a mistake he made early in his career. An eyewitness for the other side identified a juror as the person who robbed a furniture store. Hecker immediately spoke up. The prosecutor was able to get permission to give the witness a second chance. When Hecker objected, the judge reminded him that he was the one who had pointed out the error, and that if he had kept quiet, the witness might have stayed with his original identification. Although Hecker’s client was acquitted, he learned an important lesson: “Think twice about whether you need to open your mouth when things are going your way.”

  • April 21, 2016