Ethical Dilemmas in Criminal Justice Free Essay

The Pew Research Center surveyed the U.S citizens and police officers. The survey aimed to figure out how the police officers perceive their role in society and whether the U.S citizens view them as their protectors. This survey revealed that U.S citizens do not trust police officers. They do not see them as protectors of their rights and freedoms. According to the survey, approximately 86% of police officers claim that encounters with blacks make their job more challenging. In turn, the public believes that police officers use excessive force.

By data received from the poll, one can see that 72% of white officers claim that racial discrimination has nothing to do with the death of blacks during clashes. They consider deaths as isolated incidents. At the same time, 57% of black officers say that the problem goes deeper than that. Also, the survey revealed that 58% of police officers enjoy their job and the public is satisfied with their service. By contrast, 51% of police officers are not happy with their job, and society feels ashamed for their service. Approximately 42% of police officers are gravely concerned about their safety. Moreover, 72% of police officers say that they never fired from service weapon while on duty. At the same time, only 31% of police officers fired from service weapon while on duty.

Some officers believe that establishment of good relations with people will contribute to better serving. By contrast, 56% of police officers claim that the use of physical force is more efficient for certain neighborhoods. The disciplinary process in police departments also seriously affects the situation. About 53% believe that the disciplinary process of their agency is unfair and 45 believe that it is fair. Most officers (26%) claim that this process limits their actions too heavily. Only 1% of police officers believe that it is not restrictive enough. Police officers think that the U.S citizens do not understand the challenges they face while on duty. However, the survey shows that 83% of people understand the risks. Their views on gun control measures also differ. Only 32% of police officers support this idea, while 64% of the public wants to ban deadly weapons (Stepler 2017).

Sometimes, police officers do not follow the code of ethics published by the International Association of Chiefs of Police. This code was adopted in 1957. It states that police officers should follow five principles. The first principle is to serve the community, which means to protect citizens and their property from all threats. Also, it obliges the policemen to safeguard human rights. The second states that police officers should set an example. They must be law-abiding and brave, and don’t mix personal and professional lives. The third principle concerns personal engagement. The police officer should remain impartial while making decisions and always follow the law. The fourth and fifth states that officer should not disgrace his department, badge by taking bribes, breaking the law or by any other means. Law enforcement officers are responsible for every action.

Regarding the ethical dilemmas in criminal justice, Campbellsville University has published an interesting article on this issue. According to the article, police officers often face ambiguous situations. These situations impose a great responsibility on them, and sometimes police officers make mistakes that result in dire consequences. There are cases, when police officers use excessive force against aggressive individuals, while the Code of Ethics permits the use of force only as a last resort. This article also reveals that police officers sometimes use tactics of deception or intimidation to get a confession from the arrested individual. Also, personal prejudices often hinder them from taking an impartial decision. The Code of Ethics prohibits taking decisions by personal beliefs (Campbellsville University 2017). All U.S citizens have equal rights and freedoms, which mean that the relation of police officers to different ethnic groups should be equal.

In the light of the proposed case, where rookie stopped the car using racial insults and conducted an illegal search of the car, one can see the obvious violation of the Code of Ethics by the officer Scot. Besides, the constitutional rights and freedoms of the Individual were violated. During the illegal search, the police officer found a plastic bag with pills. The driver claims that it is not his bag. The Fourth Amendment of the U.S Constitution grants everyone the right “to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.” The officer Scot violated driver’s rights and freedoms by his illegal search. In this case, the driver is a victim but not a criminal. He has the right to take legal action against Officer Scot and receive compensation for the damage. Officer Scot searched driver’s car without a warrant and bag of pills cannot serve as evidence in the court ( 2018).

Many experts in the criminal justice system know from personal experience how difficult it is to solve ethical dilemmas. In times of the World War II, the Nazi Party committed thousands of crimes and transferred responsibility to authorities, who gave the orders. They decided not to dig into the ethics of orders and just follow them. The same situation can happen in the criminal justice system. The District attorney can ruin a man’s life or give a second chance. An attorney can carefully examine case files, understand the nature of the committed crime and pass the right judgment. However, there is another way for him to choose. The attorney can simply rely on public opinion and impose excessive punishment. The decision-making on such issues as capital punishment places a huge responsibility on people, who decided whether to sentence to the death penalty or impose any other punishment.

English moral philosopher, Richard Hare believes that people often use intuitive thinking for resolution of ethical dilemmas. According to him, our previous experience and moral values inculcated in childhood help us to make the right decisions. However, intuitive thinking is not enough for solving ethical dilemmas. Critical thinking here comes to the rescue.
Richard Hare provided an interesting scenario for a better understanding of this issue. Tom, who just got himself a job at the correctional facility, accidentally overheard how his colleagues discussed assassination plan. Besides, he knows that these officers have previously attempted to murder another correctional officer. This situation clearly shows the ethical dilemma. Tom has to choose whether to warn this officer about the attack or stay silent. Probably, Tom understands that this officer can be deprived of his right to safety. Before deciding on this issue, Tom will analyze carefully the things he heard, his position at the prison, weigh the pros and cons and consider his values about this issue. He will feel responsible for the safety of this officer. Tom can tell his boss about this conversation and thus save officer’s life. Also, he can turn a blind eye on this issue because of his loyalty to colleagues or talk to conspirators to prevent the crime. Tom will face the ethical dilemma, and the only way out is to agree on this issue with himself. The ethical choice can be not as easy as Tom’s. It can affect personal things, values, and fellows. Besides, if we choose this uneasy way, our actions and decisions should be supported by strong reasons. These reasons should be able to persuade any reasonable individual.

Hare claims that our personal values affect ethical decisions we make. According to his perception, some people can value more freedom than the preservation of life, while others can give higher priority to loyalty than personal freedom. That is why, decisions, which we make can be different. In his work, Richard Hare has shed light on the use of authority for personal gain. There are cases when people use their authority for the advancement of their values or avoidance of responsibility for wrong decisions. Also, he describes other ethical problems, which may arise in exceptional cases. For example, experts can use professional standing to advance their financial interests or drive in a state of intoxication. This list can be continued. All this can be called confrontation between personal and professional interests.

In criminal justice, there is also such ethical issue as the war on drugs. This war was declared in the early 1980s and resulted in an increased number of prisons. African Americans have suffered the most. Their drug addiction was perceived as a criminal justice problem but not social. The United States did not have drug rehabilitation centers, and African Americans had rough times. The majority of the blacks were addicted to crack cocaine and imprisoned for possession and distribution of drugs (The sentencing project 2001).

Capital punishment is an extremely sharp ethical issue in criminal justice. A person can be sentenced to the death penalty for large-scale drug trafficking, treason, first-degree murder, rape, and many others. This ethical dilemma is a concern for many U.S citizens. In 1608, George Kendal was accused of treason and sentenced to the death penalty. Kendal allegedly spied for Spain. According to Howard Tomb, people do not deserve to die even if they committed serious crime because capital punishment does not contribute to the prevention of crimes (The New York Times 2007). Amnesty International, human rights organization, believes that the death penalty is inefficient. The human right organization claims that capital punishment is mostly used against poorer sections of the population and members of racial societies. There is always a high risk to kill an innocent man.

Henry McCollum and Leon Brown were accused of rape and murder of 11-year-old girl, Sabrina Buie in 1983 (NC Coalition for alternatives to the death penalty). According to case files, McCollum and Brown have mental disorders. On the basis of rumor given by high school student, law enforcement officers decided to bring Henry for questioning. Police officers questioned Henry McCollum for five hours and tricked him into signing a confession. Forensics did not examine the evidence from the crime scene. Joe Freeman Britt, the attorney, sentenced brothers to death, regardless of the absence of evidence and inconsistencies in their confessions. In 1991, the Court ruled that brothers should be tried separately. Henry McCollum was again sentenced to death, and his brother was given life imprisonment. Fifteen years later, lawyers of prisoners requested DNA test of the cigarette butt, which was found at the crime scene. DNA test revealed that fingerprints belong to someone else. The real murderer of Sabrina Buie was Roscoe Artis. Artis told lawyers that brothers are innocent, but they did not take his words seriously. A witness to this case, Sinclair took a polygraph test and confessed that he knew nothing about the murder. Henry McCollum had a tough time in the prison. He was a victim of sexual assault. Henry’s mother broke down and died. In 2015, Henry McCollum and his brother were pardoned and released from prison. The false judgment ruined their lives.

The use of force is another important ethical issue in criminal justice. The police officers are allowed to apply physical force for self-defense. In January 2018, five police officers took part in the detention of 16-year-old naked and intoxicated boy. A boy did not resist during his arrest. The police officer electrocuted the boy and hit him with a baton 19 times without due reason. Currently, the officer can be tried for assault and battery. The Law Enforcement Conduct Commission has found that this officer deliberately beat a boy and knew what he was doing. He cracked his rib and told that the use of such force was required (The Guardian 2018).

The second case suggested for consideration in my work concerns improper conduct of police officers. The District Attorney Jessica decided that police officer should face criminal charges for improper conduct or abuse of authority. The head of the police believes that it is too severe punishment for administrative offenses. He thinks that penalties, dismissals, and demotions are the most suitable punishments. Jessica brought two criminal charges against police officers. She accuses the police officer of theft of state’s property. According to her statement, law enforcement officers stole tires from the police vehicle. Thus, he used his official position for personal gain. Another officer was accused of ill-treatment and charged with assault. Jessica claims that the police officer handcuffed women’s wrist too tightly and his actions resulted in the emergence of abrasions. According to her words, this woman required medical treatment. Jessica’s assistants warned her about losing criminal cases due to non-appearance of police officers or lack of details in their testimonies. The police department refuses to cooperate with prosecutors. The District Attorney thinks that the police chief is mocking her. Jessica should carefully weigh misdemeanors of these officers and punishments, which she wants to impose on them. Her decision should be based on the general principles of law but not personal prejudices. Jessica also should analyze the words of the head of police concerning suitable punishments for administrative offenses. She must assess the gravity of offenses and understand whether there was a direct threat to the life of the woman mentioned above. The theft of police tires is not a grand theft and abrasions are not the right reason for the prison sentence. Jessica should also bear in mind that she may need the assistance of police officer in the future.

The final case that needs to be considered is about an armed robbery. Woodrow Wilson committed an armed robbery of the Sin-Yon liquor store. According to case files, Wilson hit the owner in the head with a weapon and stole the cash from the register. The defendant failed to escape from the crime scene, and a police officer detained him. The prosecutor has hard evidence of Wilson’s guilt – video recording from the crime scene, witness and recovered the cash. Business owners staged a demonstration in the hallway, and the Judge saw it. Owners demanded prison sentence for Woodrow Wilson. The investigation revealed that the defendant suffered from acute addictions and had mental disorders. Wilson was never treated from his illnesses. The Judge is aware that the prison does not have proper conditions for detention and treatment of people with mental illnesses. Jeffery Owens also learned that the district prison has conditions and treatment necessary for Wilson. However, it has limitations and only people sentenced to a year and a half or less can serve their sentence there. Legally, the defendant can get from five to seven years of imprisonment. It is an extremely challenging ethical dilemma for the Judge. Owens should consider the evidence of Wilson’s mental illnesses and then decide whether it can be added to the case files. His decision has to be impartial, and willingness of business owners should not affect his decision. The punishment must be commensurate with the gravity of the crime. The judge should figure out whether the defendant knew what he was doing and what will be the consequences of his actions. The effect of detention conditions on the defendant’s psychological health should be assessed. Article 3 of the European Convention on Human rights claims that detention conditions should correspond with the health state of people, who serve their sentence. Owens has the right to receive the necessary medical treatment, and no one can deprive him of his right. Besides, the detention conditions should not diminish his dignity or cause an emotional/physical breakdown. The Judge can ask Owen how he can justify his actions and learn whether he repents or not. Certainly, the defendant should be punished for an armed robbery of the liquor store and causing bodily injury, especially if his guilt is proved and supported by evidence.

Ethical dilemmas in criminal justice cannot be solved without reasoning skills, legal awareness, knowledge of the ethics code, analytical and critical thinking. The maintenance of order in the world is a challenging task because people are not perfect and make mistakes. People should follow clear rules to avoid chaos and stay safe. Different societies have their ethical standards of behavior. The vast majority of people believe that these standards emerged from religion. The Bible is like an instruction for some people. It tells them what is right and what is wrong because God is wise and knows what is best for them. The ethical standards were created by people’s experience. These standards govern the behavior of individuals in society.

People face ethical issues in every area of their lives. Any of us can go home and meet a vagabond on his way. In this case, everyone decides himself whether to give him money for food or kick him. An upset woman can forget her purse in the car of a taxi driver, and this man will face an ethical dilemma. He will have two alternatives – either to return the lost property or keep it. His decision depends on moral values. Different people have different values. If for one person cheating does not run counter to his values than for other man cheating is bad action. Ethical dilemmas are complicated due to its ambiguous nature. For example, a man came to the basketball game, and he can hardly see players from his seat. There is vacant seat – better vantage point. This man faces an ethical dilemma; he can move into the better seat and enjoy the game or stay on his seat. Sometimes, people tend to follow their instincts, but not moral principles. It is impossible to do the right thing all the time. Nowadays, the majority of people think only about themselves, but ethical behavior means caring for others. There is always the temptation to make choices that are unethical. The research revealed that even people, who care about morality, sometimes do unethical things. Such behavior has a terrible effect on society. For example, there was a case, when a worker ran check fraud scam, and his actions resulted in substantial losses of the U.S companies (Gino 2015). However, it is up to everyone to be good or evil.


Campbellsville University. (2017) “Removing the blindfold: Ethics in criminal justice.”

Gino.F. Behavioral Sciences. Harvard Business School. (2015) “Understanding ordinary unethical behavior: why people who value morality act immorally.” (2018) “Illegal search and use of evidence.”

NC Coalition for alternatives to the death penalty. (2014) “Henry McCollum and Leon Brown.”

Stepler. R. (2017) “Key findings on how police view their jobs amid protests and calls for reform.”

The Guardian. (2018) “Officer, who struck teenager 19 times, used excessive force”.

The New York Times. (2007) “Morality and the death penalty.”

The terms offer and acceptance. (2016, May 17). Retrieved from

[Accessed: May 6, 2021]

"The terms offer and acceptance.", 17 May 2016.

[Accessed: May 6, 2021] (2016) The terms offer and acceptance [Online].
Available at:

[Accessed: May 6, 2021]

"The terms offer and acceptance.", 17 May 2016

[Accessed: May 6, 2021]

"The terms offer and acceptance.", 17 May 2016

[Accessed: May 6, 2021]

"The terms offer and acceptance.", 17 May 2016

[Accessed: May 6, 2021]

"The terms offer and acceptance.", 17 May 2016

[Accessed: May 6, 2021]
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