Southern New Hampshire University
CJ-230: Discretion in Criminal Justice
Module 8 Notes
Internal and External Discretionary Decision Making
What are the major components of the Law Enforcement Code of Ethics?
o The Law Enforcement Code of Ethics is a set of standards and principles that
guide the behavior and conduct of law enforcement officers. The major
1. Duty to serve: Law enforcement officers have a duty to serve the
community and protect its members, regardless of their race, ethnicity,
religion, or socioeconomic status.
2. Respect for the law: Law enforcement officers must respect and obey the
law, and uphold the constitution and the Bill of Rights.
3. Integrity: Law enforcement officers must be honest, trustworthy, and have
strong moral principles. They should not engage in unethical behavior,
including lying, cheating, or stealing.
4. Fairness and Impartiality: Law enforcement officers must treat all
individuals fairly and impartially, without prejudice or bias, and without
discriminating against any person or group.
5. Courage and Bravery: Law enforcement officers must have the courage
and bravery to do what is right, even in the face of danger, and to protect
and serve their communities to the best of their abilities.
6. Professionalism: Law enforcement officers must maintain a high level of
professionalism, including being well-trained, knowledgeable, and
respectful in their interaction with the public.
7. Responsibility and Accountability: Law enforcement officers must take
responsibility for their actions and be accountable for their decisions,
including any mistakes or errors they may make.
How does this code impact police discretion? Is it an internal or external factor?
o The Law Enforcement Code of Ethics provides a framework for how police
officers should exercise their discretion in a manner that is consistent with ethical
principles and the best interests of the community. Further, the code emphasizes
the importance of integrity and responsibility, meaning that officers should strive
to make decisions that are based on the law and the facts of the case, and they
should be accountable for their actions. The code can be both internal and
external. Internally, the code can influence how police officers view their role and
responsibilities, and can shape their moral and ethical values. Externally, the code
can serve as a basis for public expectations of police conduct, and can help to
establish standards of behavior that the public can hold police officers accountable
What are the different spheres of influence on ethical decision making?
o There are several spheres of influence on ethical decision making, including:
1. Legal Sphere: This sphere includes the laws, rules, and regulations that
govern the criminal justice system. Legal professionals, such as judges,
lawyers, and prosecutors, are bound by legal ethics codes that dictate their
2. Professional Sphere: This sphere includes the ethical principles and
guidelines that are specific to the criminal justice profession, such as the
Law Enforcement Code of Ethics or the American Bar Association’s
Model Rules of Professional Conduct.
3. Organizational Sphere: This sphere includes the ethical culture and
values of the criminal justice organization, which can influence an
individual’s ethical decision making within the context of their work. For
instance, police departments may have policies that dictate the use of force
or require officers to report misconduct.
4. Societal Sphere: This sphere includes the broader cultural and societal
values that shape ethical decision making, such as social norms, laws, and
regulations. In the criminal justice system, this could include issues such
as the death penalty or the treatment of prisoners.
5. Personal Sphere: This sphere includes an individual’s personal values,
beliefs, and experiences that shape their ethical decision making. Criminal
justice professionals may face ethical dilemmas that challenge their
personal beliefs or moral principles.
Why do some criminal justice professionals engage in unethical behavior while others do
o There is no single explanation for why some criminal justice professionals engage
in unethical behavior while others do not. However, there are some potential
factors that may contribute to why some criminal justice professionals engage in
ethical behavior while others do not. Some possible explanations include:
1. Personal factors: Each individual has their own unique set of values,
beliefs, and personality traits that can influence their decision-making and
behavior. Some people may be more prone to engaging in unethical
behavior due to factors such as a lack of empathy, a desire for power or
control, or a history of antisocial behavior.
2. Organizational culture: The culture and values of the criminal justice
organization in which an individual works can also play a role in their
behavior. If an organization prioritizes results over ethics or has a culture
that tolerates or even encourages unethical behavior, individuals within
that organization may be more likely to engage in such behavior.
3. Training and education: Criminal justice professionals who receive
inadequate training or education on ethical standards and practices may
not fully understand the consequences of their actions or how to navigate
4. Pressure and stress: The nature of criminal justice work can be highly
stressful and challenging, with professionals often facing high caseloads,
tight deadlines, and exposure to traumatic events. This pressure can lead
some individuals to engage in unethical behavior as a way of coping or
meeting performance targets.
5. Peer influence: Criminal justice professionals may be influenced by the
behavior of their peers or superiors. If they see others engaging in
unethical behavior without consequences, they may feel more justified in
doing the same.
What are some organizational factors that can influence discretion?
1. Policies and procedures: The policies and procedures that are in place within a
criminal justice organization can provide guidance on how much discretion
should be used in different situations. For example, if an organization has strict
policies that require officers to make an arrest in every situation where a law has
been broken, there is little room for discretion.
2. Organizational culture: The culture within a criminal justice organization can
also influence how much discretion is used. If the culture emphasizes a “tough on
crime” approach, officers may be encouraged to use less discretion in their
3. Training and supervision: The amount and quality of training that criminal
justice professionals receive can impact how much discretion they have and how
they use it. Similarly, the level of supervision that is provided can influence how
much discretion is used, as officers may feel more or less comfortable making
decisions on their own based on the level of support they receive.
4. Resource constraints: The amount of resources, such as time and money, that are
available to criminal justice professionals can impact how much discretion they
have. If resources are limited, officers may need to prioritize certain cases over
others, which can impact the amount of discretion they use.
5. Political factors: Political pressures can influence how much discretion criminal
justice professionals have and how they use it. For example, if a politician is
advocating for a particular policy, criminal justice professionals may feel pressure
to follow that policy, even if it limits their discretion.
Do these factors influence all members similarly?
o No, these factors may not influence all members of a criminal justice organization
in the same way. Different individuals may have different values, beliefs, and
experiences that can impact how they respond to organizational factors and the
degree to which they exercise discretion.
Are these factors considered internal or external?
o The factors that influence discretion in criminal justice professionals can be
considered both internal and external. Internal factors may include personal
values, beliefs, and experiences, as well as their own decision-making processes.
External factors may include organizational culture, policies and procedures,
training and supervision, resource constraints, and political pressures.
How does “acting in good faith” apply to discretion?
o “Acting in good faith” is a legal term that generally means an individual acted
with honest intentions, without the intent to deceive or harm others. In the context
of discretion in criminal justice, acting in good faith means that the criminal
justice professional exercised their discretion with the best interests of the public
in mind and without the intent to abuse their power or engage in unethical
behavior. If a criminal justice professional exercises discretion in good faith, they
can be seen as acting ethically and fulfilling their duty to serve the public.
However, if they abuse their power, engage in unethical behavior, or act with a
personal bias or motive, they are not acting in good faith.
How is professionalism connected to decision making?
o Professionalism is strongly connected to decision-making in criminal justice.
Criminal justice professionals are expected to make decisions that are based on
their expertise and training, as well as the law and ethical principles.
Professionalism requires that criminal justice professionals make decisions that
are fair, impartial, and consistent with their professional obligations and
responsibilities. In addition to being fair and impartial, decision-making in
criminal justice requires that professionals consider the consequences of their
decisions on all stakeholders, including victims, offenders, and the community.
Professionals must balance the need to enforce the law and maintain public safety
with the need to uphold the rights of individuals and promote justice. Further,
professionalism involves a commitment to ongoing learning and development.
Criminal justice professionals must stay up-to-date with changes in the law,
emerging research, and best practices in their field in order to make informed and
Can external factors, such as department policy, control officer discretion?
o In short, yes, external factors, such as department policy can influence and
sometimes control officer discretion. Criminal justice organizations often have
policies and procedures in place that provide guidance on how officers should
exercise discretion in various situations. However, while department policies can
guide and control officer discretion, they cannot account for every possible
situation. Officers may still be required to make decisions in situations where
policy does not provide clear guidance or where policy conflicts with other
factors, such as personal values, community expectations, or ethical
What does it mean to be moral?
o Being moral refers to adhering principles of right and wrong, and acting in ways
that are ethical and just. Moral behavior is characterized by a concern for the
well-being of others, a commitment to fairness and justice, and a recognition of
the inherent value and dignity of all individuals. Moral principles can be shaped
by a variety of factors, such as cultural and societal norms, personal values,
religious beliefs, and philosophical frameworks. These principles provide a
foundation for determining what actions are morally right or wrong.
How does one differentiate between moral and legal factors in decision making?
o Legal factors are based on the law and the legal system, including statutes,
regulations, and case law. Legal factors determine what actions are legal or
illegal, and what the consequences of those actions may be. In criminal justice,
legal factors may include the elements of a crime, the penalties for committing a
crime, and the procedures and requirements for obtaining warrants, conducting
searches, and making arrests. Moral factors, on the other hand, are based on
principles of right and wrong that go beyond what is strictly required by law.
Moral factors involve considerations of fairness, justice, and the impact of actions
on others. Moral factors may also take into account personal values, cultural
norms, and ethical principles.
Which mechanisms have the greatest influence over the use of deadly force?
1. Departmental policies and training: Criminal justice agencies often
have policies in place that provide guidance on when and how deadly
force may be used. Training programs can help ensure that officers are
familiar with these policies and have the skills and knowledge necessary
to respond appropriately in high-pressure situations.
2. Legal standards: The use of deadly force is subject to legal standards,
which vary depending on the circumstances of the situation. These legal
standards may be established through case law, statutes, or other legal
3. Individual officer factors: The decision to use deadly force is often made
by individual officers in the field. Factors such as an officer’s training,
experience, and personal beliefs can all influence this decision.
4. Community expectations: The community’s expectations regarding the
use of deadly force can also influence its use. Community members may
have different perspectives on when and how deadly force should be used,
and these perspectives can shape the way officers approach their work.
5. Media coverage and public opinion: High-profile incidents involving the
use of deadly force can influence public opinion and media coverage,
which can in turn impact policies, training, and individual officers
What is the difference between an internal and an external mechanism?
o Internal mechanisms refer to factors that are intrinsic or internal to an individual
or organization. These may include personal beliefs, values, attitudes, and
decision-making processes. External mechanisms, on the other hand, refer to
factors that are external to an individual or organization. These may include laws,
regulations, social norms, and other factors that are created and enforced by
external entities or systems. In general, internal mechanisms are under control of
the individual or organization, while external mechanisms are not.
Why are ethics so important in criminal justice decision making?
o Ethics are critical in criminal justice decision-making for several reasons:
1. Upholding the law: Criminal justice professionals have a responsibility to
uphold the law and ensure that justice is served. Ethics provide guidance
on how to navigate difficult decisions and ensure that the law is applied
fairly and consistently.
2. Protecting individual rights: Criminal justice professionals must balance
the needs of the community with the rights of individuals. Ethical
decision-making ensures that individual rights are protected, and that
actions taken are justifiable and legal.
3. Building public trust: The criminal justice system relies on public trust
and confidence to be effective. Ethical decision-making helps to build trust
by demonstrating a commitment to fairness, justice, and accountability.
4. Preventing misconduct: Ethics can help to prevent misconduct and
corruption in the criminal justice system. By establishing clear standards
and holding individuals accountable for their actions, ethical decision-
making promotes a culture of professionalism and integrity.
5. Improving outcomes: Ethical decision-making can lead to better
outcomes for all involved, including victims, offenders, and the
community as a whole. By prioritizing fairness and justice, ethical
decision-making can reduce the risk of unintended consequences and
promote positive outcomes.