The prime responsibility of all the professionals involved with the dispensation of criminal justice in the United States of America, especially those professionals directly charged with the administration of the capital punishment, is to exercise the powers invested in them ethically and with due regard to the norms of justice. In order to set the record straight due respect must be shown to the legal processes and the practices as far as the statistically disproportionate inequitable administration of the capital punishment to the racial minorities in the United States is concerned (Weber 2013).
The United States federal government and thirty-eight out of the fifty states have the death penalty enshrined in their constitutions. In 1972, the death penalty was stopped in the United States after the Supreme Court’s landmark judgment in Furman v. Georgia, 408 U.S. 238 (1972). The Court declared that the capital punishment was “arbitrary, unpredictable, and (even) capricious.” The Court, back then, had a golden chance to make history by ending the death penalty permanently but failed to do so. The repercussions of the said decision reverberate in the courts and influence the legal judgments pronounced by them to date (Lab 2007).
There are three main objections against the death penalty and its administration in the United States. One, the death penalty is inequitably and disproportionately applied against the racial minorities in the United States. Two, the dispensation of the capital punishment in the United States in majority of the cases is biased and arbitrary that consequentially leads to the sentencing and the execution of the innocent. Three, there is a major controversy surrounding the execution of the capital felons by the administration of the lethal injection (Robinson 2009).
The revival of the death penalty in the United States in1976 affected the racial minorities specifically the African-Americans. To date hundreds of African-Americans have been unfairly executed by the federal and the state governments of the United States. The number of the African-American citizens that receive the capital punishment and are consequently executed in the state sanctioned killings is disproportionately large as compared to the Anglo-Saxon white citizens. In 1986 in McClesky v. Kemp, 481 U.S. 299 the Supreme Court once again had a sterling opportunity to rectify the mistakes committed in the past regarding decisions concerning the death penalty. The Court could have forever removed the stigma of racial disparities in disproportionately and inequitably sending the minorities to the gallows but in complete disregard of the wishes and aspirations of all the stakeholders involved the Court recapitulated under the popular pressure (Zimring 2003).
William McClesky, a black man presented a study known as the “Baldus Study” that established that a black man is approximately 5 percent more likely to get the death sentence for killing a white person than the other way round. Though the Court agreed with McClesky and accepted that disparities exist in the criminal justice system but surprisingly declared that the evidence presented in the case was not sufficient to establish a racial bias. The Court accepted that the racial disparities in awarding the death penalty to the members of the minority communities were an inevitable part of the criminal justice system of the United States. Furthermore, the Court also stated that the legislature was the right forum to address the claims raised by McClesky. 1n 1988 the United States Congress proposed Fairness and Death Sentencing Act also known as the Racial Justice Act but to date the said act has not become law. One thing is for sure, though, that the judgment in McClesky v. Kemp has made racial disparities in the awarding of the death penalty to the minorities a part and parcel of the criminal justice of the United States. The moral and ethical concerns raised by this decision are alarming to say the least and shed a very poor light on the administration of the criminal justice in the United States (Weber 2013).
The next important objection put forward by the critics is that the criminal justice system in the United States neither fair nor equitable resulting in the sentencing to death of the poor and the innocent. This contravention of equal justice for all the citizens as enshrined in the Constitution of the United States starts at the early pre-trial stage and continues thereafter to the very end. While the cases involving the rich and high profile persons seldom reach the trial stage and are settled outside the court by the process known as the plea bargaining (Robinson and Murphy 2009).
The majority of the cases that are tried are often of the poor, mostly of African-Americans and other racial minorities lacking the required resources to finish-off the cases before they reach the trial stage. This lack of resources, like for instance ensuring the presence of expert witnesses at trial, is really empathic. In addition, the judges have been restrained by amendments in the law by the legislature from using their discretionary powers. The judges stick firmly to the guidelines provided to them while the prosecuting attorneys have been awarded more than necessary discretionary powers with the result that the poor have little or no chance of evading the death penalty and the rich do not get it at all. In short, those who can afford the best attorneys get away with murder while the poor innocent who cannot receive the death sentences. In effect this is the gory aspect of the capitalist society where for all intents and purposes the money and not the morality count (Robinson and Murphy 2009).
The shameful conduct of the public attorneys is also on the record exhibiting they have little or no interest to serve the ends of justice or to unearth the truth because of the strenuous work-load, on the one hand and myriad societal factors including racial bias, on the other hand. Some of the public attorneys handling the cases of the hapless and the helpless racial minorities have been found intoxicated, sleeping or intentionally providing ineffectual assistance to their clients during the trial proceedings (Browne-Marshall 2007).
The same callous and unethical attitude is recorded in the selection of the juries. The fact that the prosecution uses the unethical tactic of strikes to remove the minority jurors from the jury in order to get the decision of their liking is not surprising at all. Often upon the insistence of the prosecuting attorneys the defense attorneys have allowed the composition of all-white juries without raising an objection, knowing full well the repercussions such an act will have on the final outcome of the case. To provide a specific example Ramon Mata was sentenced to death by an all-white jury in the state of California. His case was heard on appeal by a higher court but the higher court found no incidence of unfairness or bias. Furthermore, the prosecutors in almost all cases of homicide seek the death sentence for the African-Americans, the Hispanics, and the other racial minorities but seldom for the Anglo-Saxon, white clients (Lynch, McGurrin, and Fenwick 2006).
The legislature is the most important institution in the smooth and the equitable functioning of the criminal justice system of the United States. Demographically the wealthy elite take part in elections and the rich upper and middle-class vote for them. As elections are a costly affair so the big corporates help these candidates financially. In a case of you rub my back and vice versa, once in office these elected representatives safeguard the interests of the classes that help them win the elections and reach the corridors of power (Robinson 2009).
The last but not the least objection in the administration of criminal justice in the United States is the method of executing the capital felons. The lethal injection is considered the most painless method of execution but the use of the lethal injection has led to litigations concerning its effectiveness in causing a quick and painless death. The critics of the method of the execution by the lethal injections argue that contrary to the widely held belief the death by the administration of the lethal injections is neither painless nor quick. For example in 1985 in the state of Texas after over forty minutes and twenty-three aborted attempts the lethal injection was successfully administered to the unfortunate felon. Further, the drugs used in these injections are not approved by the FDA and these drugs have been found to cause psychological trauma and physical pain. For instance the constitutionality of the execution by the lethal injection has been challenged in Hill v. McDonough, 126 S. Ct. 2906 (2006) for instance (Banks 2013).
Applied ethics makes the police less brutal and more caring. The ethical police force is knowledgeable of the culture of the racial minorities and thereby aware of the special needs of the areas they patrol. The awareness of the cultural ethical standards of these minority communities which in most of the cases are relative to their own culture sensitizes the police forces effectively curtailing the uncalled urge for stereotypes in the racial profiling of the members of the minority communities (Weber 2013).
Besides, the police force, ethical training is a must for the attorneys, especially the prosecuting attorneys in behaving humanely to the accused. The same goes for the defense attorneys who at times forget the ends of justice because they are representing a member of the minority community, and are deliberately negligent in offering the requisite legal assistance to their colored clients. According to Felkenes, ”Ethics is crucial in decisions involving discretion, force, and due process, because criminal justice professionals can be tempted to abuse their powers” (Banks 2013).
Justice essentially is the philosophy that encompasses the concepts of fairness, impartiality, and equality while law is the vehicle for the administration of justice. Most scholars have come to the moral conclusion that the restoration, aimed at reconciling the capital felon with the victim’s family and consequently the society is far more ethical than retribution. The aim is to heal the psychological wounds but it must be stressed that repatriation is in no way excluded from this ethically motivated endeavor (Robinson 2009).
Ethics dictate the standards by which the individuals relate to the other individuals, in particular and to the society, in general. In order for the criminal justice system to function morally it is necessary that the criminal justice professionals to act ethically. Biological theory, learning theory, Kohlberg’s moral stages, and the religious beliefs of a particular individual determine the ways that particular individual behaves under certain situations and in different contexts (Banks 2013).
Ethical training alone is not sufficient for the professionals in the criminal justice system to behave morally. Ethical training needs to be supplanted by the ethical leadership to be really effective in meaningful ways. Ethical leadership is a requisite for all the organizations related to the administration of the criminal justice, like the police, the judiciary, the lawyers and the prison correctional staff. The leaders of the criminal justice related organizations are the ethical role-models to their employees or staff members. Morals can only be inculcated by the ethical leadership into the behavior of their staff or employees by personal example. The ethical leaders must have a deep-rooted respect for the fundamental values that each of us possesses by virtue of being human. There is no second opinion that the foremost fundamental value and the most inalienable privilege is the right to life, therefore, it is a must that no innocent individual is the victim of an unethical professional of an inequitable criminal justice system (Banks 2013).
In conclusion, the foremost ethical responsibility of all the criminal justice system professionals is to ensure that justice does not seem to be done but is actually done so that the citizens, especially the racial minorities regain the required confidence that they have lost in the administration of justice in the United States (Zimring 2003).
Banks, C. (2004). Criminal justice ethics: Theory and practice (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
Browne-Marshall, G. J. (2007). Race, law, and American society: 1607 to present. New York, NY: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group.
Lab, S. (2007). Crime prevention approaches, practices and evaluations (6th ed.). Cincinnati, OH: LexisNexis.
Lynch, M., McGurrin, D., & Fenwick, M. (2006). Primer in radical criminology: critical perspectives on crime, power and identity (4th ed.). Monsey, NY: Criminal Justice Press.
Robinson, M., & Murphy, D. (2009). Greed is good: Maximization and elite deviance in America. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.
Robinson, M. B. (2009). Justice blind?: Ideals and realities of American criminal justice(3rd ed.). Upper Saddle, NJ: Prentice Hall.
Weber, E. (2013). Living together: Jacques Derrida's communities of violence and peace. New York, NY: Fordham University Press.
Zimring, F. E. (2003). The contradictions of American capital punishment. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.