A Moral Dilemma is a complex situation than involves a mental conflict between choices over a given action. A choice between two almost equal and conflicting alternatives. The course of action taken seemingly leads to the transgression of the other choice (Pollock, 2010). In the Criminal Justice system, professionals face numerous moral dilemmas due to their positions as custodians of justice (Landesman, 2011). Examples of Criminal Justice professionals are police officers, forensic scientists, probation officers, correctional officers, judges and magistrates, prosecutor among others (Pollock, 2010). These CJ professionals may lack adequate evidence to convict an accused person, may be tempted to take up bribes or sexual offers among other situations that question their obedience to ethical conduct and morality. This essay presents four examples of moral dilemmas that I, as a CJ professional could face in varying capacities. It also sets out the guidelines and principles that would I would apply in figuring out the appropriate course of action. Regardless of the dilemma a CJ professional finds him/herself in, professional guidelines, ethical code of conduct and the constitutional provisions should be the principles guiding appropriate course of action.
CJ professional face dilemmas when they are supposed to mete out justice against a family member or friend. A judge who is supposed to pass sentence to a man convicted of murder but who at some point saved his life by say rescuing him from a car accident would be in big dilemma. While the evidence may be insurmountable that the man committed a murder, the judge clearly remembers that were it not for the man who saved his life, he would have died. This is a complex moral dilemma where the judge could strongly feel that he ought to return a favor but on the other hand the law requires him to do justice to the deceased.
In this case, criminal justice procedures, call upon professionals to declare whether they have conflicting interests before they take up cases (Andreopoulos, Barberet, & Levine, 2011). If I were a judge in this case, I would withdraw from the case and allow another judge to preside. In accordance with assertions by Burke, (2013) I would not try to influence the presiding judge and should allow the legal process at stated in the constitution and the Penal Code to take course. If consulted by the convicted man on a personal level, I can genuinely advise him on the choice of lawyers as I make it clear to him that I cannot preside over his case and that advising him on the choice of lawyers would be the best things that can do in the circumstances. I would make sure that I do all things openly to avoid suspicions of trying to avert justice. I believe by doing so, I would not in any way have compromised justice while on a personal level would feel that I helped my friend as I ought.
The second moral dilemma that often faces CJ professionals is lack of substantial evidence to warrant a given action. For instance, a police officer who bumps into a group of young men in an alley where the smell of marijuana hangs in air but none of the people has any marijuana in their possession. While there is the strong suspicion that the people would have been smoking the marijuana which is against the laws, there is no tangible evidence that the people in that vicinity were the ones violating anti-drug laws. This scenario where there is strong suspicion of criminal activity yet no tangible evidence is a dilemma that faces many CJ professionals.
If I were the police officer who encountered the above dilemma, I would have arrested those people and sought speedy investigations into whether or not they were the ones using the marijuana. This is in accordance with the guidelines of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) (Tewksbury & Mustaine, 2004). As a police officer, the ethical and professional guidelines inform me to take action where the suspicion reaches a certain threshold (Tewksbury & Mustaine, 2004). I believe those present at the scene either saw the marijuana user or they were the smokers themselves. I am supposed to hand over the case to Anti-drug police squads collaborate with the Federal Bureau of Investigations to carry out investigations into activities of the arrested persons in accordance with the Controlled Substances Act (Burke, 2013). I believe this is the best course of action given the prevailing guidelines and principles of fighting drug abuse in the country.
The third dilemma that a CJ professional can face is lack of trust with ones work-mates. In late 2008, it emerged that some Mexican smuggling cartels in collaboration with American dealers were grooming their workers to apply for jobs in the police force mandated to patrol the border and prevent drug trade. A drug convict named Luis Alarid who was sentenced to 7 years imprisonment for aiding cars packed with marijuana to cross in the US, allegedly researched into how much prison time he would serve before he took $200,000 to take up the job (Pollock, 2010). It would be a massive dilemma for a junior police officer to work with such corrupt officials. The work relationship would suffer and the officer may also be forced to collaborate and become corrupt. Exposing such an arrangement could be lead to sacking or worse still murder of the officer or harm on their families. While the officer may be morally justified to exposing his life to danger at the expense of restoring justice, it is not morally right to take actions that put the lives of any of his family members or friends in danger.
If I were a junior police officer faced with the above dilemma, I would enlist the help and the guidelines of the Drug Enforcement Administration, Victims Witness Assistance Program (DEA-VWAP) to report my case to DEA. In accordance with the guidelines of the program I would obtain training on victim witness training, coordinate with the federal, state and local drug enforcement officials in ensuring that justice prevails and the corrupt officials are convicted while my security and job safety remain assured by the government (Andreopoulos, Barberet, & Levine, 2011). I would also take more precautions and ask for a transfer to a different location or change careers if the threat of murder of harm is too evident.
The fourth moral dilemma that a CJ professional can face is in handling cases arising from medical procedures gone wrong. Take a case of a judge who is supposed to preside over a case where a doctor is charged with negligence for allegedly performing an operation in which the patient later died. This can be a very complicated case where the evidenced produced in court by both the prosecution and the defense could be equally weighty but not conclusive. On one hand the doctor can prove that s/he did his best in accordance with medical ethics and the Hippocratic Oath while on the other hand family members of the deceased my accuse the doctor of negligence.
If I were a judge in the above case, I would first of all evaluate my competence in handling the case. If I feel that I am not in a position to handle the case, I would ask the court system to appoint another judge. I can also ask for more judges to help me handle the case. Following advice from Meyer and Grant, (2003) it would be important for me to call for massive forensic investigations involving the state Board of health and independent investigations by the relevant association (Physicians association) before arriving at a judgment. In addition I would take time to acquaint myself with key issues about the case such as medical ethics and guidelines on medical procedures. Andreopoulos, Barberet, and Levine, (2011) state that only thorough investigations can resolve such complicated cases and ensure that justice prevails.
CJ professionals are faced with numerous dilemmas. Some of the dilemmas may result from conflicting personal interests such as a judge being required to preside over a murder case involving a close friend. Other dilemmas involve ambiguities such as lack of substantial evidence for instance in drug cases where there may be suspicion of usage or abuse no tangible evidence to back the same. Other dilemmas can involve complexities arising out of distinct professional procedures such as medical cases. In all these cases, the CJ professional is supposed to consult the constitutional guidelines, penal code stipulations, the rules and regulations of conduct, exemptions among others. Moreover, acquainting oneself with adequate facts can also help to resolve the dilemma. Seeking the help of programs such as Drug Enforcement Administration-Victims Witness Assistance Program (DEA-VWAP) also helps in the resolution of some dilemmas without one exposing anybody to personal harm. In all, dilemmas will continue to face CJ professions. Openness and effective communication are crucial in helping CJ professionals handle different types of dilemmas.
Andreopoulos, G. J., Barberet, R., & Levine, J. P. (2011). International criminal justice critical perspectives and new challenges. New York: Springer.
Burke, R. H. (2013). Theorizing the Criminal Justice System: Four Models of Criminal Justice Development. Criminal Justice Review, 38(3), 277-290.
Landesman, B. M. (2011). Scheid's Dilemma. Criminal Justice Ethics, 30(1), 98-105.
Meyer, J., & Grant, D. R. (2003). The courts in our criminal justice system. Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice Hall.
Pollock, M. (2010) Ethical Dilemmas and Decisions in Criminal Justice. Wadsworth Cengage learning. Retrieved Feb 15 2013 from: http://college.cengage.com/criminal_justice/course360/ethics_in_criminal_justice_1111101337/2nd_edition/ebook/pollock_1111346429_ch04.pdf
Tewksbury, R. A., & Mustaine, E. E. (2004). Controversies in criminal justice research. Cincinnati, OH: Anderson Pub.