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Ethical Observations of Criminal Justice System Essay

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Updated: Apr 19th, 2022


The system of criminal justice involves justice professionals such as the police, prosecutors, and judges who make decisions that can be analyzed and judged as either ethical or unethical. At the different stages of the justice system, discretion is exercised (Bronitt & Stenning, 2011). For instance, police officers are involved in a considerable exercise of discretion in order to arrest and carry out the investigation process. As a result, justice professionals are required to have analytical and reasoning abilities to overcome situations that may be judged as unethical. The following is an overview of an ethical issue that involved police officers.


A community police officer in charge of maintaining law and order in a local shopping center passes by one of the stores to buy some items. As the police officer pays for the picked items, the shopkeeper gives the officer a package of free items and a shopping voucher worth $100 as a present for his family and an appreciation note for the role the he has played in preventing crime in the local area.

Ethical issues

Even though the offer may be purely an appreciation, it presents a moral dilemma in relation to accepting gratuity in the course performing duties. According to Coleman (2004), gratuities place the policy officers in compromising positions in which the giver may require favor in future. In such a situation, it is the discretion of the officer to accept or refuse the gratuity. The offer may align the police officer to a slippery slope because the gift may have hidden expectations from the shopkeeper. As a result, the police officer may be placed in a situation to favor the shopkeeper in case he is involved in matters that are contrary to set laws. In the advent of such hidden expectations, the officer will be acting in favor. Braswell, McCarhthy, and McCarthy (2002) noted that “a police officer has an ethical responsibility to make non-biased, non-discriminatory, law-abiding and justifiable judgment calls to protect innocent citizens” (p. 12). It is worth noting that the fundamental duties of police officers are to serve the community impartially.


Ethics is a mainstay of any profession. It is a common occurrence that in the course of the duty, police officers will find themselves in situations that present ethical dilemma. Trained professionals have analytical and reasoning capability to identify the possible ethical consequences. The police officer had the choice to accept or reject the offer. In the context, the police officer thanked the shopkeeper for the gifts and did not accept the offer. Even though gratuities cannot be categorized as corruption, they can be termed as fringe benefits. In addition, they entail financial gains, which place the officer in a position to be easily compromised.


The decision made by the officer must have emanated from the professional training and the understanding of the ethical code of conduct. Police officers are trained to be aware, exercise critical thinking and be open to ethical issues. The training and experience develop “whole sight” when dealing with matters that may appear normal but in real sense place them in a compromising situation. Police officers should not allow friendship to interfere with their official conduct. As a result, they are supposed to conduct themselves in a way to inspire confidence and command respect in relation to the status of the office public service.

Effects of the choices on the individuals

The failure to take the gratuities ensured that the officer and the shopkeeper did not get into a friendship that compromised the justice system. For instance, the police officer used discretion to make a choice that ensured that his duties are performed impartially as outlined by the Morality of Law. The law states “Even if a man is answerable only to his conscience, he will answer more responsibly if he is compelled to articulate principles on which he acts” (Bronitt & Stenning, 2011, p. 64). This law is usually called Fullers Principle, and it is critical for police officers when making choices that raise ethical dilemmas.

The effects of the choice on the community and society

Dealing with some situations is dictated by the law. However, Coleman (2004) noted that some situations are left to the professional discretion of the individual involved. The choice to avoid being in a compromised position upheld the respect of the police department. It maintained a ground for ensuring equal justice to all, irrespective of the status. In addition, it implied that financial offers do not influence the moral principles of the society; hence, cultivating the culture of fairness, integrity, and respect in the society as a whole.

The choice I would have made

In such a context, I would not have accepted the gratuity. The reasoning behind the choice is based on the code of conduct that requires the public servants to provide services impartially. The gift would have benefited me but compromised my future services. According to Bronitt and Stenning (2011), one of the principles of decision making is ends-based thinking in which a professional is supposed to undertake what produces the greatest good for the greatest number of people; thus, the reasoning to reject the gift based on professional discretion and the code of conduct.


Braswell, M., McCarhthy, B., & McCarthy, B. (2002). Justice, crime and ethics. Cincinnati, OH: Anderson Publishing Co.

Bronitt, S. H., & Stenning, P. (2011). Understanding discretion in modern policing. Criminal Law Journal, 35(6), 319-332.

Coleman, S. (2004). Police, gratuities, and professionalism: A response to Kania. Criminal Justice Ethics, 23(1), 63-65.

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