Facing Ethical Dilemma in The Criminal Justice System Case Study
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Final Project: Case Study
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 citys 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 aint mine. That aint mine. Scot suddenly realized he has committed an illegal search. What should Scot do?