This research paper discusses the ethical issues from municipal to the courts in the criminal justice system. It explains how important it is for the courts to intervene in order for the ethical issues to be addressed and to ensure that the public’s civil rights are not compromised. It also examines the interventions of the courts to ensure that the system of criminal justice addresses the ethical issues (Samuel, 1992).
Criminal justice is a system that involves government’s institutions and practices which are directed to uphold social control, to deter and mitigate crime and to sanction law breakers with rehabilitation efforts and criminal penalties according to a procedural set of rules and limitations (Samuel, 1992).
The criminal justice system has three main parts: law enforcement, adjudication and corrections. The law enforcement involves the police. The police are the first contact that the law breaker comes into contact with within the criminal justice system. The police will investigate the wrong doing before making an arrest (Samuel, 1992).
The police can be given a warrant to use force or any legal coercion in order to effect public and social order. The primary concern of the police is to keep peace and enforce criminal laws. The main duties of the police are:
Peace keeping. This involves protection of individuals in violent situations whether o the streets or domestic quarrels.
To combat crime as well as to apprehend those who violate laws. This is a task that the police are mostly associated with by the public.
Crime prevention. This is implemented through public education on crime threats. The police also prevent crime by curbing and reducing situations likely to be committed crimes, for example, raiding the drug peddlers’ dens.
Social services provision. The traffic police direct and control traffic, other officers give medical aid emergencies. They also help to recover stolen or lost property. They also help people who have locked themselves out of their cars or homes (Cole, & Christopher, 2008).
Adjudication involves the courts. These serve as the venues where settling of disputes takes place and administering of justice is effected. A court includes both professionals and non professionals. Some of the court room work group may include a judge, defense attorney and the prosecutor. The judge offers the final decision in order for the case to be disposed. The prosecutor is the lawyer who charges the accused (Samuel, 1992).
The accused could be a person, a group of people or a body corporate. The prosecutor explains the crime committed and gives detailed incriminating evidence against the accused. The prosecutor makes accusations on behalf of the state. The defense attorney counsels the person accused on legal process, the likely outcomes and also suggests strategies. The defense attorney represents the interests of the client. When the accused have been found guilty, they are turned over to correctional facilities. In early days, offenders were executed or exiled. In these modern days, after trial they are taken to prison for detention and to jail for containment (Samuel, 1992).
The police, corrections and the courts, have their own needs and goals which are interdependent. If one of the units changes its resources, polices or practices, it affects others units, for example, when the number of arrest by the police increases, the judicial, probation and the correctional units get affected too. Private agencies also come in to assist to supervise or even to treat the offenders. Example of such agencies includes the crime victim compensation boards. There are other administrative agencies whose work is to enforce criminal law. Examples of these agencies include those who deal with taxation and natural resources, and driver and vehicle licensing bureaus (Cole, & Christopher, 2008).
There is a need for every unit to make its maximum contribution for the criminal justice system to be able attain its goals. There is also a need for the units to maintain regular communication with each of the units. Good and proper interactions among individuals’ decision makers will produce solid decisions (Cole, & Christopher, 2008).
The main attributes of the criminal justice system are resource dependence, discretion, filtering and sequential tasks (Cole, & Christopher, 2008).
Every decision made is bases on being discreet. This is where an individual exercises judgment in choice making about alternative causes of action, it is where decisions are made without the formal rules. A police officer may decide whether to make an arrest, to investigate, to use force or to question a suspect. Similarly, a prosecutor decides on whether to charge a suspect with a crime or to bargain for plea. A judge also uses discretion when he decides to set a bail, to accept or to reject plea bargain. The parole board members use discretion to decide whether or when to release an inmate from prison (TPCJ, 2010).
Criminal justice ethics is the study of how and whether criminal justice is moral i.e. whether the standards by which human behavior are judged is good and right. It is only by being moral that criminal justice can be distinguished from the same crime it condemns (Leighton, & Reiman, 2001).
Moral standards are not generally accepted but are rationally justifiable behavior. Morality is neutral hence good for all people (Leighton, & Reiman, 2001).
These standards are used to guide those who exercise authority and power over citizens. The morally right or wrong varies from one person to another and from one culture to another i.e. a moral judgment cannot be true for all purposes, cultures or people (Banks, 2004).
A particular culture is judged in accordance to its culture, the same applies to different people and different purposes. At the same time, there could be high disagreement about morals in a particular culture. For instance the issues of prostitution, capital punishment and abortion have always brought about moral disagreements between individuals of the same cultures (Banks, 2004).
There’s no moral code which is superior to the other. A moral behavior could be right to one culture but wrong to the other. It is always good to learn from other people’s way of behavior and allow exposure of our moral shortcomings (Banks, 2004).
Ethical standards are not necessarily written down rules or laws; they are simply a collective experience that regulates the behavior of those who make up a particular society.
It is important to learn ethical issues in criminal justice as this gives solutions to the professionals on how authority is exercised. Some of the problems that use of authority encounters are when authority is used for personal values promotion, and using authority in order to avoid accountability for doing wrong (Banks, 2004).
Learning ethical issues also helps in solving problems on how personal and professional conflicts can be handled. Problems between personal and professional may arise when a professional uses his status to promote his personal interests. These personal interests may be religious, political or financial. Another professional-personal problem may arise when a professional uses time and materials from the institution to do illegitimate work for his personal gain (Banks, 2004).
When a person engages in promoting professional activities that contradict his personal values is seen as an ethical professional- personal problem. At the same time, when one engages in a public or private activity that contradicts professional values like drunk driving, it poses a problem between professional and personal values (Banks, 2004).
Commitment to clients may also pose personal- professional problems, For instance, when a professional behaves in an unethical manner with a client. Another problem is when the professionals misuse the relationship between them and their clients for personal gains, for example acquiring goods at a cheaper price (Banks, 2004).
Some of the ethical issues involving criminal justice and public policy may include: capital punishment, the war on drugs, to move away from rehabilitative juvenile justice policies toward more punitive policies and policies involving harsher penalties resulting in prisoner warehousing. Ethical issues resulting from policing polices are policing policies in domestic violence cases, use of force by the police, profiling by police and use of discretion by police.
There are also ethical problems resulting from information sharing. These problems may include; the ethics of information withholding. This may be from a client, from the police or even from the courts. Information sharing may also experience confidentiality problems and privileged communication, for instance during research participation one may be tempted to leak out some of the information gathered (Banks, 2004).
When dealing with human rights issues, the criminal justice system undergoes some ethical problems. Some of these may be when an unusual or cruel punishment is administered, another ethical problem is when human rights such of prisoners, and women are violated. Capital punishment is also part of human rights ethical problems (Banks, 2004).
The media also experiences ethical problems when reporting crime, For example, when highlighting the opinion of the public about crime. Other problems are when crime is politicized by the media and when they broadcast crime as part of entertainment (Banks, 2004).
Ethical standards are mostly shaped by the diverse religion, the law of nature and other forms of law. For the criminal justice system to work properly and efficiently and for competent decision making, the professionals should understand the ethical issues involved therein (Banks, 2004).
For a case to be processed, many key decision makers are involved in the justice system. The case has to go through the police officers, the prosecutors, the judges, through probation officers, the wardens, and finally the members of the parole board. They decide at each stage whether a case will be dropped or proceed to the next stage (Cole, & Christopher, 2008).
Criminal justice is a process which involves a series of steps that begins with an investigation and ends with the convicted offender being released from a correctional centre. This process involves making of a lot of decisions and following of so many rules (TPCJ, 2010).
The major steps involved to process a criminal case are:
Crime investigation. This is done by the police. Its purpose is to enable identification of a suspect in order to support an arrest. A search or an inspection of a person or property is done. The police must gather enough criminality evidence to indicate that the suspect committed the crime or a crime was committed in a specific place.
Suspect arrest. This is done by the police. It involves taking the suspect to custody where he is held awaiting court. This is an indication that the person arrested has a link to the specific crime committed (TPCJ, 2010).
Criminal defendant prosecution. This is done by a district attorney. There are many factors that prosecutors consider before they decide whether to charge a person with a crime. They consider how strong the evidence presented against the suspect is and also how serious the offense is.
Grand jury indictment or information filing by a prosecutor. An indictment is required when prosecuting a capital crime or information in cases with offenses liable to be punished by imprisonment. The grand jury will decide whether to charge the suspect in a closed hearing where the evidence is presented only by the prosecutor or the prosecutor will file an information (a charging document). They determine whether the evidence is enough to deserve a trial through a preliminary hearing.
Judge’s arraignment. Ahead of the trial, defendant makes a court appearance and enters a guilty or not guilty plea.
Bail or/and pretrial detention. To be detained is to be put in custody on temporal basis before a trial. Bail is an amount of money paid by a suspect as a surety to show up for trial (TPCJ, 2010).
Plea bargaining. This is between the prosecutor and the defense attorney. Usually for the suspect’s sentence or charge to reduce he has to agree to plead guilty.
Adjudication of guilt/trial. This is done by a jury or a judge in participation of a defense lawyer and a prosecutor. For a suspect to be convicted criminally, the evidence has to prove guilt beyond reasonable doubt, failure to which the suspect is acquitted.
Judge sentence. If the person accused is found guilty, he is given a sentence. The accused can be fined, put on probation, sent to a correctional institution for a given period of time or be put on community service.
Appealing. This is filed by appellate attorneys and ruled by appellate judges. When a case has been reversed by an appellate court, it is returned to a trial court for retrial rendering the original trial a moot. The prosecutor then will decide refilling or dropping the charges.
Rehabilitation or/and punishment. This is administered by state, local or federal correctional authorities. Many of the inmates do not serve a complete term. They may have an early release through pardon or parole (TPCJ, 2010).
The ethical standards in the system of criminal justice have acted as a guide to policymakers and those who practice in the arena of criminal justice. They are relied upon by professionals in the criminal justice system to make just and solid decisions that could affect other people’s lives (ABA, 2005).
These standards are used as bench books by trial court judges and hornbooks by prosecutors and practicing defense attorneys. The defense lawyers and the prosecutors have found the ethical issues useful when appearing before the judges to support their arguments. They also use the standards to guide their own conduct and to train and mentor their colleagues. For example, they give the functions of a prosecutor which is to not only convict but also to give justice (ABA, 2009).
The ethical standards are also cited to make appellate opinions in appellate courts, the military justice and the federal courts. They are an important source of authority. They also have impacted greatly on the way the courts rule (ABA, 2009).