Ethical Dilemma in the Criminal Justice System Essay

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Ethical dilemmas permeate the criminal justice. At every level, in each segment of the system, people are exercising discretion that will influence the fate of an individual and/or the security of the community. Incongruous laws, regulations, policies and practices create conflicts and distort the basis upon which judgments are made. Very often these conflicts result in an ethical dilemma. Which is the appropriate course of action? What is the moral/ethical rational for the decisions that were made? What purposes or principles are served? This project will ask you to consider a sequence of decisions (do, or not do) all of which contribute, directly or indirectly the final scene.

For each of the three (3) scenarios, your assignment is to: 

  • Examine each situation and describe the ethical and/or moral question,
  • Describe what you believe to be the motivation of the actor and the potential consequences of BOTH/EACH options,
  • Identify the decision you believe the actor SHOULD make, and
  • Provide the ethical basis for your decision.
  • Connect the ethical basis for your decision to ethical theories introduced at the beginning of the course and explain the rational for this connection.
  • Each decision must be considered separately and not be influenced by earlier decisions and/or actions.

This project is an opportunity for the student to demonstrate their understanding of ethics and value-based decisions. Most of these situations do not have a single correct answer. Grading is NOT based on solving the problem that is presented to the actor but in identifying the ethical dilemmas and determining and explaining the most ethical course of action.


1. The judge

Judge Jeffery Owens is very troubled by the felony case before him.  The defendant, Woodrow Wilson, had been found guilty of armed robbery of a liquor store.  The case alleged that Wilson had a handgun in plain sight when he entered the Sin-Yon liquor store, that he hit the owner in the head with the weapon and forced him to open the cash drawer. Fleeing the scene on foot, Woodrow only got a few blocks before responding police officers spotted him and made the arrest. The prosecutor, armed with the recovered cash, video surveillance and an eyewitness as evidence had an easy case. Now it is time for sentencing.

Jeffery saw the demonstration of business owners in the hallway when he entered the courthouse that morning. They were chanting “Justice for our victims” and were demanding a lengthy prison sentence. The Pre-Sentence Investigation report said Wilson was suffering from acute addiction and associated mental problems that had caused these violent (but not criminal) outbreaks in the past. There is no information in the file that Wilson has ever received treatment for his disorders. Jeffery knows that, due to budget cuts, the state prison system has very little in the way of addictive or behavioral disorder treatment programs. The prisons had reverted to merely warehousing inmates. However, he had read that the county jail had received a federal grant to establish exactly the kind of services that it appeared Wilson needed. Obviously, he had no way of knowing if this or any treatment would be successful for Wilson.

Sentencing guidelines were established to ensure that defendants convicted of similar offenses received similar punishments. According to the sentencing guidelines, Wilson should be sentenced to 5-7 years in the state correctional prison system. Jeffery knows that the business community was calling for the maximum sentence. The county jail only took inmates sentenced to eighteen months or less. What sentence should Judge Owens impose on Mr. Wilson?  

2. The District Attorney

Jessica ran a successful campaign for district attorney on a very conservative platform generally critical of the incumbent's inability or unwillingness to prosecute police misconduct with criminal charges. The city’s police chief did not support her campaign. He felt that administrative actions that could result is fines, suspensions, demotion or termination of employment were sufficient punishment. Additionally, victims could sue an officer in civil court if the officer acted outside the scope of their authority and immunity.  The chief felt that these consequences should be sufficient for any police misconduct except, perhaps, a felony. Since her election Jessica has brought criminal charges of larceny against one officer for switching city tires off his patrol car on to his personal car. She also brought assault charges against an officer when she learned a suspect needed medical treatment for wrist abrasions due to her handcuffs being too tight. Recently several assistants have cautioned her that they are losing criminal cases, including serious felony cases, because police officers are either not appearing to testify at court or are having "difficulty remembering" critical details during their testimony. This started in traffic court but has also occurred in misdemeanor trials as well. The feeling is these officers are retaliating against the district attorney's officer for the criminal charges being brought against members of the police force.  The pattern is quite clear and getting worse. Prosecutors are complaining that police detectives are “too busy” to return their calls. Jessica understands she cannot successfully prosecute criminal cases without the cooperation of the police department. At the same time, she feels as though she is being bullied by an overly protective autocratic police chief. She feels she can and should prosecute police officer for any criminal offense ...and feels that her election demonstrated that the community agrees with her. What should Jessica do?

3. The Officer

Scot is still on probation as a police department rookie. While on probation he can be dismissed at any time for any reason and would not be entitled to a trail board or hearing prior to dismissal. 

During the course of his patrol duties Scot has cause to stop a car for a legitimate but minor traffic violation. The motorist was highly agitated at being stopped “for no reason” and, using a variety of obscene references and racial slurs, adamantly expressed how upset he was. Agitated, Scot told the man to exit the vehicle and place his hands on the hood of his car. Scot looked through the car interior, and then took the keys out of the ignition to open the trunk. Seeing what Scot was doing the driver told Scot to stop and that he could absolutely not search the trunk of the car.  Ignoring this, Scot opened the trunk and discovered in plain view a large, clear plastic bag containing thousands of pharmaceutical-type capsules. Scot could hear the driver screaming, “That ain’t mine. That ain’t mine.”  Scot suddenly realized he has committed an illegal search. What should Scot do?

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Final Project: Case Stdy
Thesis Statement: In the criminal justice system, and all the people who take part in making
critical decisions, integrity and ethical practices are essential for building the trust from the
communities they serve, and ensuring that justice is served without any favors or conflicting
1. Introduction
2. The Judge
3. The District Attorney
4. The Officer
5. Conclusion


Final Project Case Study
Ethical Dilemma in the Criminal Justice System
Institution Affiliation




Ethics in criminal justice involves making decisions that good, bad, right, or wrong in the
process of serving justice. In the criminal justice system, and all the people who take part in
making critical decisions, integrity and ethical practices are essential for building the trust from
the communities they serve, and ensuring that justice is served without any favors or conflicting
interests. The officers involved need to have a good understanding of the law, as well as the
cases being presented to them (Banks, 2018).
By taking the oath of service to the public, all the officers, such as police officers or law
enforcement officers, judges, district attorneys, and other involved officers, that is enough for the
involvement of the public in the scrutinizing of their conduct and behaviors. Whatever they do or
say is under judgment by the public. The officers in the justice system should meet the required
demands from the citizens and their seniors/ supervisors as they remain morally upright in
making ethical decisions. In every human conduct, ethical issues are fundamental and so, in the
criminal justice delivery, the officers need to observe safety and well-being of the citizens,
equality without discrimination, respect and obedience to the law, avoid conflict of interests,
avoid making decisions when under the influence, and most importantly maintain a good
relationship with the communities they serve.
There are always manifestations of ethical dilemmas in the criminal justice system every
day. In every level of the system, the officers are exercising discretion that will determine the
individual’s fate as well as the whole community’s safety and security. These conflicts in
decision making are influenced by absurd laws, policies, regulations, and individual practices.
This results in an ethical dilemma. I will be discussing different situations which present ethical



dilemma and actions which is morally correct (Braswell, McCarthy, & McCarthy, 2017). There
will also be highlighting the consequences of making morally wrong decisions.
The Judge
Judges are a very crucial figure in the whole of the criminal justice system, as they have
the final say regarding the fate of the accused and the victim (Gómez, 2019). Based on the
evidence provided, the judge can sentence the accused to imprisonment or release him/ her. Thus
this officer must be able to understand situations from different perspectives to enable him to
make a fair and acceptable decision to all. The judicial ethics are a prerequisite of the highest
order in the administration of justice. In this particular case, the defendant is known as Woodrow
Wilson, whose charge is an armed robbery. He had entered into a liquor store and hit the
attendant on the head with the gun he was having, and then demanding cash before fleeing.
The presiding judge was Jeffery Owens, who found himself in a dilemma. There was a
clear presentation of evidence that showed that Mr. Wilson was guilty, which included
eyewitnesses, video surveillance, and the cash, which was recovered from him at the time of the
arrest. According to laid guidelines for the sentencing of this kind of crime, Mr. Wilson was
likely to serve a maximum of seven years in the state correctional prison system.
There is also the disclosure that the accused has a mental condition of addiction, a
problem that could be linked to committing the armed robbery by the accused and other violent
non-criminal activities in the past. The state correctional prison does not have enough funds to
cater for such people who are mentally challenged like Mr. Wilson, but the judge knows that the
county Jail which only takes inmates with a sentence of eighteen months or less received a
federal grant to establish the kind of services that Mr...

Really great stuff, couldn't ask for more.


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