Codes of conduct and legal ethics rules are adopted by criminal justice actors and institutions such as police, attorneys and judges, and corrections professionals. International standards of criminal justice are outlined in the United Nations Criminal Justice Standards for law enforcement peacekeeping officers working overseas.
Why Codes of Conduct?
History has examples of codes of ethical conduct dating back to the 1770s-b.c.e. Code of Hammurabi. Principles of the Babylonian Code were included in the old English codes, and ethical rules became the underpinnings of U.S. criminal laws and justice policies. There is not a single origin for codes of conduct of ethical behavior in criminal justice. Each institution such as police, attorneys and judges, and correctional professionals recognize the need to establish a legal code of conduct to help them become effective and efficient at fulfilling the agency mission and goals. In general, each institution of the criminal justice system follows a code of professional ethics or legal policies, rules, and regulations for standards of conduct. The purpose of a code of conduct is to govern the actions of police, attorneys, judges, and corrections professionals, and to guide interactions while working with suspects and offenders. Codes of conduct are helpful to criminal justice professionals striving to form effective partnerships with citizens, settling disputes, and adopting behaviors and responsibilities aligned to the constitutional rights afforded to criminal offenders and at each step in the process from arrest, apprehension, and trial to incarceration and release under correctional supervision. Ethical rules of professional conduct are legally binding and a reminder that criminal justice professionals are held to a higher standard and have the public trust. In general, codes are published in codes of professional conduct documents.
Police Codes of Conduct
American policing can trace its roots back to England. The shirr eves (an old English word from which “sheriffs” is derived) and local constables had authority to serve court warrants and maintain law and order in the colonies. The U.S. Constitution mentions presidential authority for maintenance of order in national emergencies and providing for the domestic tranquility of the nation. The U.S. federal government role in national policing was a legal ethical issue until the passage of the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878, which limited the use of the military in state criminal law enforcement matters.
In the 19th century, states began establishing decentralized policing for maintenance of order and crime prevention. Some violations of integrity and ethics included post-Civil War law enforcement officials hounding supporters of the Confederacy as well as police members of the Klu Klux Klan abusing former slaves. In the 19th century, the role of the constables was scaled back to transporting prisoners and serving warrants. New forms of police organizations surfaced such as the Texas Rangers.
From 1800 through the 1930s, police misconduct included police brutality of immigrants and citizens in poor urban neighborhoods. Corruption of political organizations, such as Tammany Hall in New York, emerged under the spoils (or patronage) system and graft became common in the law enforcement machinery of most cities such as New York, Boston, and Chicago. The 20thcentury goal of professionalizing the police force was for ethical reasons—to suppress malfeasance and misconduct and to end graft. Changing the police roles and practices occurred by preserving constitutional rights pursuant to case precedents by the U.S. Supreme Court that limited police search, seizure, and brutal treatment of suspects. The written codes of conduct for American policing can be traced to around the mid-1900s, and the focus of the Law Enforcement Code of Professional Ethics was on law and order and the police role as social worker and peacekeeper in the community. The Model Policy on Standards of Conduct outlines the ethical behavior and conduct of the exemplary police professional, including impartiality in enforcing the law.
The document also describes disciplinary action when ethical rules of conduct are violated. The document is organized into four sections including the purpose, policy, definitions, and procedures, or police agency rules. It addresses police officer conduct toward fellow officers and other agency personnel, accountability, and commitment to strive for ethical professionalism such as respect and courtesy when interacting with peers and interactions with citizens in the community.
Attorneys and Judges Codes of Conduct
Since 1908, the American Bar Association (ABA) has written ethical rules governing lawyers conduct in the Canon of Professional Ethics, and in 1983 modifications were included in the Model Rules of Professional Conduct, which consist of nearly 60 rules of conduct. This document is organized into three major sections: client-lawyer interactions, which focuses on the role of a lawyer as counselor and adviser; lawyer-other party interactions and communications with third parties related to clients, other law firms, and governing pro bono work; and reasons for choosing the law, such as maintaining integrity and professional ethics rather than personal gain and professional misconduct. The canons are legal statements of ethics rules, specifying norms of behavior and responsibilities of lawyers and establishing ethical standards for which lawyers are to strive in the commission of their duties.
Court judges follow a code of conduct for ethical behavior, which is found in the Model Code of Judicial Conduct, which was adopted in 1990 by the ABA to reinforce and promote ethical rules and procedural and discretional justice in the judiciary. The U.S. Courts Code of Conduct for U.S. Judges includes six important canons regarding integrity, impartiality, and cautions about political activities. The code of ethical conduct applies to United States judges at work in the circuit courts, district courts, trade, and bankruptcy and magistrate courts. International codes and the Court of Appeals for the Armed Services have adopted the canons in the U.S. Courts and ABA codes. Finally, the states’ judiciary councils have written canons of ethical rules for professional behavior and conduct in accordance with the principles outlined in the U.S. Courts Code of Conduct for United States Judges.
Corrections Professionals Codes of Conduct
The American Correctional Association (ACA) has existed for about a century and a half and has written up ethical rules of conduct for employees working in corrections so that actions are consistent with “conscientious performance” of job duties. Corrections is the back end of the justice system and has the legal mandate, or authority, to carry out courts’ sentencing sanctions. Sentencing to incarceration, probation in lieu of imprisonment, or death should be in accordance with the public trust and without political considerations, bias, or incompetence. The ACA Code of Ethics is a model for states’ departments of corrections to establish formal ethical rules of conduct for personnel to follow while on duty and acting in an official capacity. Correctional personnel are advised to act in accordance with ethical rules and perform duties that promote respect and ethics in the workplace; disciplinary actions are outlined if actions are contrary to standards of conduct.
- American Bar Association. “Model Rules of Professional Conduct.” http://www.americanbar.org/groups/professional_responsibility/publications/model_rules_of_professional_conduct/model_rules_of_professional_conduct_table_of_contents.html (Accessed May 2013).
- Bechtel, Kenneth. State Police in the United States: A Socio-Historical Analysis. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1995.
- Bloch, Sidney and Margaret Coady, eds. Codes of Ethics in Professions. Melbourne, Australia: Melbourne University Press, 1996.
- International Association of Chiefs of Police. “The Law Enforcement Code of Ethics and Model Policy on Standards of Conduct.” http://www.theiacp.org/PoliceServices/ProfessionalAssistance/Ethics/ModelPolicyonStanModelPolicyonS/tabid/196/Default.aspx#ModelPolicy (Accessed May 2013).
- Kleinig, John. The Ethics of Policing. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996.
- United States Courts. “Code of Conduct for United States Judges.” http://www.uscourts.gov/RulesAndPolicies/CodesOfConduct/CodeConductUnitedStatesJudges.aspx (Accessed May 2013).
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