3 Ways Ethics Influences Criminal Justice

By Craig Gruber.

Dr. Gruber is the director of Northeastern's Homeland Security program and lead faculty in the Criminal Justice Program. He is an expert in maritime domain awareness, intelligence analysis, and counter-terrorism. An officer in the U.S. Navy Reserves, Dr. Gruber has served at the Office of Naval Intelligence and Joint Intelligence Center Central Command.

It’s fascinating to think about why ethical considerations are relevant to the criminal justice field to begin with. Is it about discretion? Due process? Use of force? Are we talking about how morality influences what people do and how they act? 

Ethics are the foundation of the criminal justice system: It’s what helped us develop the moral reasoning we use, how we define criminal activity, and what we as a society deem as acceptable punishment. It’s an important topic because our criminal justice system is most effective when it’s operating in an ethical manner.

Here are some ways ethics plays a role in criminal justice:  

1. Police

We have lots of ways to examine how ethics can influence police behavior, including how the police interact with a community and how that community interacts with police.

When the police are perceived to be operating ethically, the community is more likely to be open and ethical when dealing with them. This includes working together on crime prevention. 

2. Attorneys

Ethical behavior, of course, isn’t about winning a case at all costs. It’s about representing your client in the best way possible. There shouldn’t be an expectation for attorneys to have to act unethically and therefore inappropriately.

For example, rules have been written in a certain way. We can follow the spirit or the letter of the law, and we need to allow (and expect) attorneys to be doing both. 

3. Self-Participation 

Often times we don’t think that the way people interact with criminal justice professionals is part of the ethical equation, but it is. We need to consider people’s willingness to share information and to be part of the system. This includes everything from participating in jury duty to self-reporting local criminal activity.