Social Issues / Ethics In Criminal Justice

Ethics In Criminal Justice

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Autor:  anton  01 December 2010
Tags:  Ethics,  Criminal,  Justice
Words: 1007   |   Pages: 5
Views: 888

It goes without saying that ethics is an extremely important aspect of criminalistics work. More often than not, your findings will hold more weight in the outcome of a case than anything else. You basically hold someone’s freedom in your hands. With the technological advancements made of late, and the limited number of experts that conduct, analyze, and report their findings have to be up to the standards to maintain professionalism as well as ethical practices. Although there have been instances of misconduct, steps are being taken to try to weed out those unsuitable to work in the field.

The American chemical society demands that its members stick to the utmost degree of ethical standards. As part of this, they came up with “The Chemist’s Creed”, which basically states that the chemists that are members of the society agree to acknowledge the following responsibilities:

· “Be actively concerned with the health and welfare of co-workers, consumer and the community…seek to advance chemical science, understand the limitations of their knowledge, and respect the truth…remain current with developments in their field….keep accurate and complete laboratory records, maintain integrity in all conduct and publications…promote and protect the legitimate interests of their employers…treat subordinates with respect for their professionalism…regard the tutelage of students as a trust conferred by society for the promotion of the student’s learning and professional development…serve clients faithfully and incorruptibly, respect confidentiality, advise honestly, and charge fairly.” (ACS)

Without abiding by these rules, leave way for disastrous consequences. Many individuals have been wrongly accused and convicted based on false evidence, whether accidental or purposefully. If the criminalists and forensic scientists simply disregarded these practices, how are we to have any faith in the world of science in regard to criminal justice? It is our job to process the evidence at hand, reporting the findings, and explaining those results in a court of law, if need be. It is not to twist the evidence around until it fits the outcome we want. If you do not have high enough moral and/or ethical standards, this can become difficult.

Ethical dilemmas arise on a constant basis. For instance, “A criminalist retained by the defense discovers incriminating evidence overlooked by the prosecution laboratory. What should he or she do with the incriminating trace when it comes time to return the bulk of the evidence to the police agency?” Do you throw it away? Have the defense criminalist retain it? Package the slide with the fiber in it packaged together with the bullet and return it to the other agency? Or do you take the incriminating fiber and return it to its original location on the bullet and return it that way? If you have any sense of work ethic, you will know that throwing away key evidence is wrong, no matter which side you are working for. That goes back to the issue of “making the evidence fit the outcome of the issue”. (Barnett) If you as the defense criminalist keeps it, it is basically as bad as throwing it away. What would happen if you were called as an expert witness? Would you perjure yourself on the stand if asked about it? If you take the third option, you risk the issue of “self incrimination”, as you are working for the defendant. But choosing option four, leaving the fiber on the bullet, it could be lost in the transfer. There is no “black or white” right or wrong answer. You have to use your own judgment, following your professional convictions, and believe that you did the right thing based on the circumstances.

Its quite easy to see how, without upholding professionalism, the public would lose faith in the field of forensic science. There was an issue a few years back regarding a criminalist who was falsifying evidence reports for money from certain defendants. Luckily this is not commonplace. The fact that it happens as much as it does is still too great. This also goes for the crime labs themselves. There was an issue in 1997 at the Arkansas Crime Lab and the Medical Examiner’s offices regarding the practices that they participate in. A forensic scientist and criminal profiler, Brent E. Turvey, was up for a position at the new Criminal Justice Institute that was headquartered at the University of Arkansas Little Rock. But then he found out that he would not be allowed to provide his expertise to any faction of the defense. He would only be able to provide his skills to police and members of the prosecution. This raised the issue of what practices other states’ labs follow. When they were polled, the results were found to be split. Some states followed the same practice, while others were able to speak directly to defense. In other instances, reports from the crime labs were considered public record. It’s hard to uphold your own professionalism and ethical standards when the department you are working for leaves a lot to be desired in this area. How do you act properly when no one around you does?

There is no easy answer to any of this. You must realize what you are getting into, what is going to be required of you if and when you do choose to enter the field of criminalistics and forensic science. If you are determined to uphold the ACS guidelines, you must realize that sometimes they are going to conflict with your professional surroundings. You have to make your own ethical decisions on a constant basis, and just know that what you are doing is right.


1. The American Chemical Society – The Chemist’s Code of Conduct

2. Forensic Science Associates – Ethical Dilemma No. 1

3. News & Politics: “Ethics debate at the crime lab”

Leveritt, Mara

April 17, 1998

4. Barnes, Tom – Forensic Scientist for Oregon State Police Crime Lab Portland, Oregon

Interview October 2002

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