The state's highest court says corporations can't face criminal charges without proof that at least one employee has committed a crime.
The unanimous ruling rebuffs an attempt by Attorney General Martha Coakley to bring manslaughter charges against the corporation that owns a nursing home in Acton.
Coakley argued unsuccessfully that the charge against Life Care Centers of America was appropriate since numerous employees had failed to protect a resident who died in a wheelchair accident.
Attorney Ben Robbins, with the New England Legal Foundation, says corporations with no ill intent could have faced any number of charges if the Supreme Judicial Court had accepted Coakley's purported theory.
"Suddenly you have the consequences that flow from criminal prosecution or conviction where nobody has committed a crime," Robbins said.
Robbins added: "Aggregating various employees' individual acts (with) bits of knowledge to accumulate a criminal intent that did not exist in any person is unfounded in the law and irrational as well."
The Supreme Judicial Court ruling says negligence is a civil violation, not a crime.
This program aired on May 19, 2010. The audio for this program is not available.