Ethical dilemmas in criminal justice

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Ethical dilemmas always arise in dealing with criminal justice scenarios. Professional criminal justices representatives find constantly find themselves in a compromising position when dealing with cases of crime. Ethics demands one to take an action that is within or beyond their personal interests. Ethics draws the line between right actions and wrong actions and how they should be addressed. It is basically concerned with moral decision making (cited in Pollock, 2013).

The study of ethics is analyzed in three broad categories. One is metaethics which deals with defining and interpreting ethical terms. Normativite ethics is the next class of ethics and deals with analyzing behavior and code of conduct. The last branch of ethics is called applied ethics where ethical guidelines are practically employed to solve underlying moral evils. Ethics provides the legal justice system to make informed moral decisions. Decisions made in respect to observing ethical guidelines are generally acceptable on the bases of reliability (Icheku, 2011, p. 19). This paper explores ethical issues in respect to the criminal justice system.

Significance of Ethics in Criminal Justice

Souryal (2010) indicates that absence of ethics in the society would probably cause chaos in the justice system. There is a need to have a set of principles that can guide people in making informed moral resolutions. Ethics draws the line in establishing the extent an action is morally wrong or right. With ethics, people are able to differentiate between right and wrong deeds. Ethical dilemmas are deemed to arise in complicated scenarios of moral rulings. The study of ethics, however, ensures that right actions prevail over the wrong ones. Ethics enable professionals involved in criminal justice to make informed moral resolutions.

Ethics should be used in analyzing the decision made by the criminal integrity system to determine where they are morally right. Factors such as the nature of crime and the prescribed punishment should be addressed. Ethics ensures that there is a balance between the crime and type of punishment provided. For example, it sounds unethical to pass a long sentence to someone for a petty crime. The question of a fair trial is informed by ethics. It is ethical to give one a fair trial and accord him the most appropriate punishment. For example, it would be grossly unfair to convict someone of a crime without allowing him to defend himself (Souryal, 2010, p. 196).

Ethics enables professionals in the justice system to identify moral substance in various actions. Hence they are able to distinguish between ethical and unethical behaviors. Actions that instigates bad or evil are also classified as unethical. Through ethics, professionals handling criminal just have the ability to identify moral behavior. Decision making structures are established through inference to ethical standards and guidelines. The system of criminal impartiality borrows from ethics in order to make moral and acceptable judgments in practical situations. Effective study on ethics by professionals eliminates ambiguities and dilemmas that emerge when solving particular ethical cases. Some crimes may beg for rehabilitation of the offender while others call for a jail term. The law and the justice system have advanced power to professionals to use the best means possible to safeguard the rule of law. Sometimes, these professionals may exercise coercion while carrying on their duties. Ethics attempts to control these professionals from abusing their authorities (Souryal, 2010, p. 204).

Actors in Criminal Justice

There are many actors in the justice sector and all are bound by ethics to act rationally in safeguarding morality. These actors are expected to make ethical choices at all time while exercising their mandate. One group of actors is the legislators. They have the discretion to establish whether a certain behavior is legal or illegal. The legislators have the authority to define actions that are punishable. The actors who oversee the system of justice should act within ethical boundaries. The other set of actors are the police officers. They have the mandate to arrest suspects and align them in court. They also have the responsibility to investigate on a particular case and provide a reliable report. These responsibilities should be handled diligently while observing the ethical guidelines for admirable results. Due to the nature of their work, the police constantly experience scrutiny from the public in failing to observe ethics in their work (Cole, Smith, & DeJong, 2013, p. 11).

According to Cole, Smith, & DeJong (2013), prosecutors are also part of the actors in system of criminal justice. They hold the responsibility of pressing charges in the law court. They are also involved in influencing the judges on the kind of punishment they should give the accused. The prosecutors also influence the actions of the police. For example, they may urge the police to conduct further investigations on a particular case. Another set of key players in the justice system are the judges. The judges request the accused to plea to the actions they are accused of. The judges also deliberate on the evidence provided by the prosecutors. They may use or discard such evidence based on what they deem fit. Sentencing is one of their crucial duties. They are required to pass the most appropriate sentence after the case. Observing ethical guidelines is essential for these professional as their work entails provision of justice (p. 17).

Dilemmas of Ethics in Criminal Justice

            Ethical requirements have often conflicted with personal interests. Most professionals have been faced with dilemma on the course of action to take in particular circumstances. These dilemmas are common with professionals in field of providing justice in crime scenarios since most of their decisions are based on ethics. Dilemmas in making decisions are classified as ethical where such are in conflict with personal interests and raises the issue of morality (cited in Pollock, 2013). Pollock (2013, p. 123) argues that a person uses intuitive stage of thinking when faced with ethical quandary. Critical thinking is a basic requirement where one is faced with ethical predicaments. Intuition may not be sufficient in making moral resolutions and decisive thinking is needed. For example, an officer X at a correction facility may overhear his colleagues planning on assaulting an inmate who allegedly attacked another officer. Officer X may be faced with a situation of ethical confusion on whether to intervene, which would probably get him into a conflict with his colleagues. On the other, hand he can let it go, but still it begs whether the inmate has right to safety.

Ethical issues that present themselves in the system of criminal justice are far much complicated and may affect the life of an individual in a great extent. Such include death and life sentence of offenders, waiver on criminalization of soft drugs and profiling of different races among others. Ethical dilemmas present themselves where making the right decision is faced with many constraints and has got a high opportunity cost. Where no written law or judicial precedent exists, a person is supposed to observe ethics to make an informed decision (cited in Stohr, 2013).

Ethical Problems in Criminal Justice                              

According to Icheku, V. (2011, p. 90) ethical problems in the system of justice are confined in conflicts of personal interests and professional duties among various justice professionals. The main problem is how to deal with such conflicts and maintain ethics in such situations. A problem in ethics also arises in exercising authority by the justice professionals. This is where the professionals may use their power to exercise personal interests. Professionals may also use their authority to evade being held accountable for their wrongdoing. Most justice maintenance professionals are faced with the problem of creating a balance between their individual interests and professional requirement. For example, a police officer may drink alcohol and drive whilst he should be the one to arrest drunk drivers. There may also emerge a problem in ethics where one contradicts professional and personal relationship with his or her clients. For example, a professional may use his or her professional affiliation with the clients for personal gain. Such may include accepting rewards and obtaining goods or services at a reduced price. There has also been a problem of observing ethics in respect to punishment of crime. Some punishments are regarded as unethical and against human rights.


            The paper has comprehensively analyzed ethical issues in the system of justice. It has been shown that ethics is the central point of focus in decision making. The standards of performance by professional in the system of criminal justice are based on ethics. It is evident that ethics must be observed in criminal justice for desirable service delivery (Souryal, 2010, p. 111).

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