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Ethics is a branch of philosophy that is concerned mostly with the study of knowing what is wrong or right and how one is supposed to live in a context of a given society. Ethics further invokes formulating moral judgment based on what is lawful or unlawful, bad or good. Ethical issues, therefore, define those situations or problems that require an individual, organization, or institution to decide between the given alternatives that have to be evaluated, regarding being wrong(unethical) and right(ethical) (Thiroux & Krasemann, 2009). The ethical issues in the criminal justice system have often been reviewed on both a historical and philosophical level. The issues have existed for centuries and have covered the problems of policing international politics and government. The standard code of ethics that all public servants and law enforcement officers are asked to uphold is often entrapped by a subjective translation by individuals that in most cases, result in the possibility of the ethical question being raised by their conduct. Therefore, it is vital to note that ethics form the criminal justice system foundation (Dellen, 2008). It is the aspect that aids in developing the moral reasoning we apply within the society, how we define and interpret criminal activity, and the general view of the society, concerning what is deemed as acceptable or legal punishment.

According to Pollock (2013), everybody makes choices that can be judged by ethical standards. The professionals that operate under the criminal, justice system, whether they work in correctional institutions, courts, or law enforcement, often find themselves caught in very many situations that require them to make choices that will affect people’s lives. For example, defense attorneys have ethical duties to their clients through making decisions on whether the client should agree to a plea deal with the prosecutor. He decides which of the available evidence is to be used and how to go about the case. At the same time, the judges possess massive powers to deny or accept a plea from the accused. Ethical issues regarding capital punishment are the most increasing challenges that the criminal justice system faces in the United States (Manzi, 2003).

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Glossip v Gross decision

In regards to the Glossip v Gross decision, there has been a raging question about whether capital punishment, as used in the United States, is ethical or unethical. In the Glossip v Gross decision, the Supreme Court Justices made a ruling that went against a petition by two death row convicts from Kentucky about whether the mixture of the three drugs and lethal injections, used in the executions, met the constitutional standards (Schwinn, 2015). In their petition, the death row inmates challenged the drug protocol to be used in the execution by arguing that it poses an undue risk of unusual and cruel punishment. The Majority of the Justices agreed with the court’s opinion on the matter, even though dissenting voices called for a serious reevaluation of the constitutionality of capital punishment. For the most part, Justice Alito argued that the inmates had failed to supply the court with a preferable execution method and further failed to make the case that the drug they were disputing carried the risk of severe pain (Schwinn, 2015).

After the Supreme Court decision, those who advocated against capital punishment turned their focus to the source of the drugs used in the lethal execution. The pressure was mostly on the stoppage of supplying the sedatives by pharmaceutical companies who produced these drugs. The initiative of states, like Florida and Oklahoma, resulted in looking for substitute sedatives that would ensure that the death row inmate remains unconscious during the executions, without feeling the pain. The primary objective was to come up with an ethical method that would subject the death row convict to what could be viewed in the public eye as a dignified death. While the issue of capital punishment remained unchallenged and unchanged by the Supreme Court decision, the Glossip v Gross decision signifies the practical and ethical issues that are swirling around capital punishment within the United States and the contentious issues of its constitutionality (Schwinn, 2015).

Before the Glossip v Gross decision, most Americans were in full support of capital punishment. The decisions, however, raised the issue of the execution methods that triggered the underlying intractable political, legal, and ethical problems that come with the reality of capital punishment as a form of punishment. If the details that are involved in ending the life of a human being as a punishment indicate to us the need for the cruelty of the death sentence, then it is very irrational to conceive and accept death as a punishment the constitutional means might fail to implement (Schmalleger, 2009). Furthermore, it is wrong to assume that the Justices involved in the decision had managed their emotions effectively while addressing the capital punishment questions. Not all the opinions that were under Glossip showed care, rationality, and civility. Some of the opinions were full of animosity. The support has, however, undergone a major division between those who support it (retentions) and those advocating for its abolition (abolitionist).

The abolitionist argues that capital punishment has never been proven to be effective in deterring others from committing similar crimes; therefore, it is non-beneficial to society. An American Civil Union member on his support for abolition once summarized the issue that capital punishment is purely unethical, unfair, and discriminatory. There is no human being who must be forced to die, and when a justice system metes out vengeance in disguise of meting out justice, then the system of justice itself is said to have become complicit in lowering the dignity of the same human life (Paternoster, Brame &Bacon, 2008). On the contrary, the retentions argue that death capital, as a form of capital punishment, is the best punishment that can deter other people from engaging in similar crimes and act as a good reciprocate to the evil that one has done. A judge in the US court of appeal, in support of capital punishment, termed a society that is unwilling to demand the life of an individual who has taken another person’s life as immoral (Sustein &Vermule, 2005).

Fundamental approaches to determining ethical standards

In the process of determining whether any action undertaken is ethically acceptable or unacceptable, there are four key approaches that an individual can commence. The first approach is to look at the truth of the action and determine whether it is well understood, as well as completely and correctly described. The second approach is to look at the subsequent consequence of the given action, to determine the overall negative or positive effects on society. The third aspect is to determine the fairness of the given action, to check on whether it treats members of society equally. Finally, one should determine the character under which the action is carried out, to assess the motivation of the people performing it (Thiroux &Krasemann, 2009). Under this context, how capital punishment is taken in the United States can, therefore, be said to be unethical. Religion educates on the value of human life, while the United States Constitution stresses empathically the need for human life protection. Therefore subjecting an individual to pain through lethal injection not only robs the person of his constitutional right to life but further devalues the fundamental aspect of his or her human life.

Motivators of capital punishment in the US

From a broader perspective, the act of capital punishments, such as the ones that exist in the United States, is greatly motivated by vengeance. To most proponents, this is understandable as it qualifies as a form of justice for the offenders. On the contrary, it is important to consider that the operation of a state is not like a person’s. Therefore, the obligation of the state is not to see that revenge is carried out satisfactorily. According to Pollock (2013), this dimension is manifested very highly by the whites who tend to use this form of punishment on blacks as a form of vengeance. In other words, he eludes that Capital punishment in the United States majorly discriminates according to race and income level. This point of view was wildly supported by Supreme Court Judge Ginsburg, who stated that most people who are executed happen to have killed a white person and have received an incompetent or unfair legal representation. According to his data, of the 1385 people executed in the United States, 55.7% were blacks, while 33.7% were white (Paternoster, Brame &Bacon, 2008). In other words, some lives are adjudged to be more important than those that are very unethical, regarding justice delivery. A system of justice should be fair and geared towards changing the overall attitude of the society to crime and its subsequent consequences, rather than causing mutiny within a nation.


In conclusion, the basic underlying factor that any criminal justice system should consider before legislating on any form of punishment is the fundamental right of the life that is going to be affected. The right to live and choose what to do during that life, including deciding how to die, is a privilege that every human being should enjoy. Capital punishment not only deprives one of these rights but at the same time affects the personal morals or ethics of the person by carrying out the execution. As much as there should be justice vested on the offenders, the United States Criminal Justice system should come up with a more humane way in which both sides of the divide would feel fair justice has been given, and no human right has been infringed.

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