Ethics in the Justice System

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In simple definition, the word “ethics” means; a system of moral principles, the rules of conduct recognized in respect to a particular class of human actions or a particular group, culture, etc., moral principles as of an individual, and that branch of philosophy dealing with values relating to human conduct, with respect to the rightness and wrongness of certain actions and to the goodness and badness of the motives and ends of such actions (Dictionary.com). Even the definition, as clear as it is, cannot begin to encompass what this word truly means to those who live in and work for our justice system. Depending on the branch of the justice system that they are employed in, each person will have their own set of moral and ethical values, as well as those that are required by the position they hold. The tricky part can be to decide which set of values to follow in a situation where there may be a choice, and if so, how does one go about making that choice. Do they possibly sacrifice their personal ethics to follow those that are required by their position? Is it ok for them to bypass those standards of their professional code of ethics in order to maintain their personal standards? When it gets to the point of questioning whose ethics to follow, one has to wonder who decides which set of ethics is more important if there is a difference. People who are employed into the Justice System have exhibited strength of mind and body that prove they are worthy to be in charge if those who may be a danger to society. This fact alone places these individuals in a position of power, and without a personal and professional code of ethics to live by; this power could be taken out of context. This could lead to damage within the system, as well as out on the street. A personal set of ethics can often be hard to define. Ethics are not on our minds as we make various choices throughout the day. When we sub-consciously make one judgment or another, we are not aware that our personal ethics have guided those judgments. We are entirely too busy as a society to micro-manage our thoughts, feelings and choices in that manner. We make our choices, and move on, often without any retrospect to the issue. There are a few who are able to recognize the choices and judgments they make as ethical dilemmas, and those people are often the ones who are looked up to as upstanding citizens in their communities. I think we all can have a bit of envy for those who always seem to make the right choice, even in times of pressure.

In addition to the complexity of ethics as a whole, we also need to consider that there are two main “branches” of ethical values; Deontological Ethics, and Teleological Ethics. The definition of deontological ethics reads: the branch of ethics dealing with right action and the nature of duty, without regard to the goodness or value of motives or the desirability of the ends of any act (Dictionary.com). In simpler terms, it means that a person is to do what is lawful and widely accepted as proper, regardless of intention or reward. A person who follows a deontological set of ethics is one who is going to be a law abiding citizen, who has no empathy for law breakers in any context. They will always follow the rules, and believe that there should be no deviation from those rules, even in unconventional circumstances.

Teleological ethics are the opposite, with a definition that reads: the branch of ethics dealing primarily with the relative goodness or value of the motives and end of any action (Dictionary.com). In laymen’s terms, this means that any action, even if against the law, can be considered good as long as the person had good intentions. For example, if a man walks into a bank, and robs it at gunpoint, this action could potentially be acceptable as long as his intent was to give the money to the poor so they could eat and have a warm place to sleep. Although the action was clearly wrong, his intent was...
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