Thesis: Ethics in Law Enforcement

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Ethical Issues in Law Enforcement

Why study ethics in criminal justice? Why should any criminal justice professional act ethically? Address the issue of discretion relevant to ethics and the criminal justice professional. Discuss the stages of becoming a police officer and the police officer's moral career and relate this atmosphere to the topic of ethics in criminal justice. Why can a career in criminal justice be morally dangerous?

Ethics is important in every professional field simply because ethics is synonymous with what is morally right and just. In general, a society in which individuals and professional entities respect moral principles and interact justly with each other fairly. In particular, the field of law enforcement consists of enforcing justice and the moral rules of society reflected in its laws and regulations. Therefore, that field should have the strictest requirements and standards of all professional fields because without ethical values in law enforcement, there is no basis for enforcing the principles of conduct that are most beneficial to everyone in society. For the same reason, ethical violations in law enforcement and criminal justice are even more offensive to objective justice and moral values than ethical violations in other fields.

Discretion is perfectly appropriate throughout the field of criminal justice provided that it is exercised objectively, fairly, and in an unbiased manner. Very often, the same choice might be ethical and unethical depending only on the mental state and motivation known only to the criminal justice professional. I traffic enforcement officer may justly exercise his discretion to issue a verbal warning in lieu of taking formal enforcement action based on the totality of circumstances such as the prior driving record of the subject, the courteous demeanor, and cooperation. The officer may not use

"discretion" to make the same decision based on personal interests or subjective biases.

In the earliest stages of a police officer's career, he or she might rely on formal enforcement too heavily instead of exercising discretion more appropriately. A new officer may carry the proverbial "heavy badge" and lose sight of the forest for the trees.

A more experienced officer understands that not every technical violation necessarily requires enforcement action and that overlooking certain minor violations allows the officer to focus on more important issues. For example, an officer who enforces every instance of J-walking or failure to signal a lane change may never have the chance to look for more serious violations because he is continually tied up with minutiae.

A career in criminal justice could become morally dangerous in several ways. An officer could begin to feel above the law and take liberties simply because he knows that his professional status will preclude enforcement if he is caught. He also may come to believe that the criminal justice system is too inefficient and begin violating rules of procedure designed to protect civil rights or lying on the witness stand in order to secure convictions where he believes the circumstances justify the means.

2. Discuss the techniques of interrogatory deception. Analyze the consequences of deception in interrogation, highlighting arguments both in support and against it. Reach a conclusion, supported by argument and theory, on the use of deception in police work (you may consider and discuss the broader issues of police deception discussed in class and in the textbooks).

Deception may be used in many ways during interrogation. Criminal investigators may misrepresent their interest in an individual by purposely treating him as a witness instead of as a suspect to facilitate his willingness to talk about a crime. Police officers and detectives may pretend to know much more than they do about a specific crime to motivate a suspect to turn himself in or to convince a third party to do so.

Interrogating officers may also promise a suspect to "do whatever I can for you with the judge" knowing full well that the crime at issue, or the mandatory sentencing guidelines, or the idiosyncrasies of the judge make that promise one that is completely empty in reality.

Alternatively, a detective might pretend to sympathize or identify with the suspect to gain compliance and reduce his resistance by virtue of a personal bond between the suspect and the officer. From a tactical point-of-view, the officer may wish to employ deception only when necessary because a reputation for dishonesty within a small community of criminal subjects can learn very quickly not to cooperate with or trust the officer at his word, which could compromise his ability to do his job and might even jeopardize his personal safety.

These types of deception do not violate any ethical principles and are perfectly legal. However, many opportunities also arise in the career of any police officer in which deception that is illegal and unethical also could be useful. It is in those instances that an ethical officer will not exploit the situation and the fact that he is more knowledgeable about the law than the subject. For a typical example, a traffic officer might tell the subject of a car stop that "things will go a lot easier for you if you give me your consent to search your vehicle" knowing full well that he has no probable cause to search without consent and that consent to search may lawfully be refused by the motorist.

Often, the conversation is not recorded or witnessed by anybody else and the unethical police officer could easily testify that he merely asked for permission to search and never said anything to suggest that the subject couldn't simply refuse consent to do

so. This would not be an ethical or constitutionally permissible type of deception in law enforcement. Generally, there are cut and dried lines between the types of deception that ethical and permissible from those that are unethical and impermissible.

There are also grey areas where the type of misrepresentation or deceit is technically permissible but nevertheless morally unethical depending on many factors.

Exercising every opportunity to use deception without violating the law might be morally justified to prevent or to solve a morally heinous crime but less morally justified to address less serious issues or legal violations. With respect to legally permissible use of deception, and officer must be guided by his conscience and his sense of whether the ends justify the means in particular circumstances.

3. Suppose a criminal lawyer is defending an influential politician accused of rape. Suppose also that the politician admits his guilt to the attorney but nevertheless informs her of his intention to testify falsely under oath that the victim first made sexual advances toward him. Now suppose that the politician in question is in the process of bringing about a change in taxation which would mean substantial tax reductions for millions of needy Americans, and that furthermore, these efforts will be defeated if the politician in question were convicted of rape. Analyze what the lawyer should do from a utilitarian approach. Address any rules which may/may not affect the lawyer's behavior. What would the "morally good" lawyer do? What would the "purely effective" lawyer do (explain the characteristics of each in your answer)? Discuss the issue of personal v. professional ethics related to lawyers.

From the rule utilitarian approach, the lawyer has no choice because the rules of professional ethical conduct strictly forbid the subornation of perjury. A lawyer may not ethically or legally allow his client to give testimony that the lawyer knows is false.

From the act utilitarian approach, one could argue that under the given facts, the welfare of the community might outweigh the importance of prosecution for the crime. Of course, the other consideration, even under act utilitarianism, is the potential danger that the politician represents to other women. A very general utilitarian analysis might always err in favor of that which is more beneficial to more people, but that invariably leads to conclusions that are harmful to innocent people without justification with respect to them.

The "morally good" lawyer might try to achieve the best possible outcome by violating the formal rules as necessary to achieve both goals. He might allow his client to testify falsely in order to secure the benefit of the legislation for society and then figure out a way to also secure his conviction. If the lawyer's objective were to achieve both goals, he might consider allowing the perjury and purposely fabricate sufficient procedural and substantive violations to allow the prosecution a second crack at the case after the legislation was enacted.

By contrast, the lawyer concerned exclusively with being effective would simply tell his client "I'm sorry, I didn't hear what you just said. By the way, I also have to let you know that if you tell me you're planning to lie in court, I am obligated not to allow that. Now, do you want to repeat what you just said that I didn't hear?"

More generally, personal ethics can be very different from formal ethical rules of law. For example, if all criminal defense lawyers had a higher… [END OF PREVIEW]

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Ethics in Law Enforcement.  (2009, April 26).  Retrieved August 19, 2019, from

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"Ethics in Law Enforcement."  26 April 2009.  Web.  19 August 2019. <>.

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"Ethics in Law Enforcement."  April 26, 2009.  Accessed August 19, 2019.