It’s fascinating to think about how ethical considerations are relevant to the criminal justice field. Is it about discretion? Due process? Use of force? Are we talking about how morality influences what people do and how they act?
Ethics are actually the very foundation of the criminal justice system. They’re what helped us, as a society, develop the moral reasoning we use, define criminal activity, and deem acceptable as punishment. It’s an important topic because our criminal justice system is most effective when it’s operating in an ethical manner.
Here are three key areas where ethics play a role in criminal justice:
1. Police Operations
We have lots of ways to examine how ethics can influence police behavior, including how the police interact with a community and how that community interacts with police. When the police are perceived to be operating ethically, a community is more likely to be open and ethical when dealing with them. This includes working together on crime prevention.
2. Attorney Behavior
Ethical behavior, of course, isn’t about winning a case at all costs. It’s about representing your client in the best way possible. There shouldn’t be an expectation for attorneys to have to act unethically and therefore inappropriately. Rules have been written in a certain way. We can follow the spirit or the letter of the law, and we need to allow (and expect) attorneys to be doing both.
Often times we don’t think that the way people interact with criminal justice professionals is part of the ethical equation, but it is. We need to consider people’s willingness to share information and to be part of the system. This includes everything from participating in jury duty to self-reporting local criminal activity.