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Question: Judge Jeffery Owens is very troubled by the felony case before him. The defendant, Woodrow Wilson, had been found guilty of armed robbery of a liquor store.

04 Jul 2023,3:34 PM


1. The judge

Judge Jeffery Owens is very troubled by the felony case before him. The defendant, Woodrow Wilson, had been found guilty of armed robbery of a liquor store. The case alleged that Wilson had a handgun in plain sight when he entered the Sin-Yon liquor store, that he hit the owner in the head with the weapon and forced him to open the cash drawer. Fleeing the scene on foot, Woodrow only got a few blocks before responding police officers spotted him and made the arrest. The prosecutor, armed with the recovered cash, video surveillance and an eyewitness as evidence had an easy case. Now it is time for sentencing.

Jeffery saw the demonstration of business owners in the hallway when he entered the courthouse that morning. They were chanting “Justice for our victims” and were demanding a lengthy prison sentence. The Pre-Sentence Investigation report said Wilson was suffering from acute addiction and associated mental problems that had caused these violent (but not criminal) outbreaks in the past. There is no information in the file that Wilson has ever received treatment for his disorders. Jeffery knows that, due to budget cuts, the state prison system has very little in the way of addictive or behavioral disorder treatment programs. The prisons had reverted to merely warehousing inmates. However, he had read that the county jail had received a federal grant to establish exactly the kind of services that it appeared Wilson needed. Obviously, he had no way of knowing if this or any treatment would be successful for Wilson.

Sentencing guidelines were established to ensure that defendants convicted of similar offenses received similar punishments. According to the sentencing guidelines, Wilson should be sentenced to 5-7 years in the state correctional prison system. Jeffery knows that the business community was calling for the maximum sentence. The county jail only took inmates sentenced to eighteen months or less. What sentence should Judge Owens impose on Mr. Wilson?


Ethical and/or moral question: The ethical question in this scenario is what sentence Judge Owens should impose on Mr. Wilson, considering the defendant's acute addiction and associated mental problems, the lack of treatment programs in the state prison system, and the availability of services in the county jail.

Motivation of the actor: Judge Owens seems to be motivated by a concern for justice and the well-being of the defendant. He is troubled by the case and has knowledge of Wilson's addiction and mental problems. He also considers the lack of treatment programs in the state prison system and the availability of services in the county jail.

Potential consequences of each option:

  1. Sentencing Wilson to 5-7 years in the state correctional prison system:

    • Consequence: Wilson would serve a relatively long sentence in a prison system that lacks adequate addiction and behavioral disorder treatment programs. This may not address the underlying causes of his criminal behavior, potentially leading to a higher chance of reoffending upon release.
  2. Sentencing Wilson to a shorter term in the county jail (up to 18 months) with treatment services:

    • Consequence: Wilson would receive treatment for his acute addiction and associated mental problems in a facility that has received a federal grant specifically for such services. This may provide an opportunity for rehabilitation and addressing the root causes of his criminal behavior. However, the success of the treatment is uncertain, and the shorter sentence may be perceived as a lenient punishment by the business community and the public.

Decision the actor should make: Judge Owens should sentence Mr. Wilson to a shorter term in the county jail with treatment services.

Ethical basis for the decision: The ethical basis for this decision can be supported by a combination of consequentialist and rehabilitative ethical theories.

  1. Consequentialism: By considering the potential consequences of each option, Judge Owens can prioritize the well-being of both the defendant and society. Sentencing Wilson to the county jail with treatment services has the potential to address the underlying causes of his criminal behavior, reduce the likelihood of future crimes, and contribute to his rehabilitation and reintegration into society.

  2. Rehabilitative Ethics: This ethical approach emphasizes the goal of rehabilitation rather than retribution. Judge Owens, by opting for treatment services in the county jail, is prioritizing the opportunity for Wilson to receive necessary help for his addiction and mental problems, aiming to address the root causes of his violent outbreaks and reduce the likelihood of future criminal acts. Rehabilitation aligns with the principles of fairness, empathy, and a belief in the potential for positive change in individuals.

By connecting the decision to these ethical theories, Judge Owens can justify a sentence that takes into account the long-term well-being and potential for rehabilitation of the defendant, while also considering the limited resources and treatment options available in the state prison system.

2. The District Attorney

Jessica ran a successful campaign for district attorney on a very conservative platform generally critical of the incumbent's inability or unwillingness to prosecute police misconduct with criminal charges. The city’s police chief did not support her campaign. He felt that administrative actions that could result is fines, suspensions, demotion or termination of employment were sufficient punishment. Additionally, victims could sue an officer in civil court if the officer acted outside the scope of their authority and immunity. The chief felt that these consequences should be sufficient for any police misconduct except, perhaps, a felony. Since her election Jessica has brought criminal charges of larceny against one officer for switching city tires off his patrol car on to his personal car. She also brought assault charges against an officer when she learned a suspect needed medical treatment for wrist abrasions due to her handcuffs being too tight. Recently several assistants have cautioned her that they are losing criminal cases, including serious felony cases, because police officers are either not appearing to testify at court or are having "difficulty remembering" critical details during their testimony. This started in traffic court but has also occurred in misdemeanor trials as well. The feeling is these officers are retaliating against the district attorney's officer for the criminal charges being brought against members of the police force. The pattern is quite clear and getting worse. Prosecutors are complaining that police detectives are “too busy” to return their calls. Jessica understands she cannot successfully prosecute criminal cases without the cooperation of the police department. At the same time, she feels as though she is being bullied by an overly protective autocratic police chief. She feels she can and should prosecute police officer for any criminal offense ...and feels that her election demonstrated that the community agrees with her. What should Jessica do?


Ethical and Moral Question: The ethical and moral question in this scenario is whether Jessica should continue prosecuting police officers for criminal offenses, despite the backlash and lack of cooperation from the police department, or if she should modify her approach in order to maintain a working relationship with the police and ensure successful prosecution of criminal cases.

Motivation of the Actor and Potential Consequences: Jessica's motivation is to fulfill her campaign promise and hold police officers accountable for criminal offenses, which she believes is necessary for justice and to address the community's concerns. However, this has resulted in retaliation from the police department, leading to difficulties in prosecuting cases. The potential consequences of continuing to prosecute police officers include further strained relationships, increased resistance from the police department, and a decrease in successful criminal prosecutions. This may also impact public trust and confidence in the criminal justice system.

On the other hand, modifying her approach and refraining from prosecuting police officers for criminal offenses could lead to improved cooperation from the police department. This may result in better communication, increased trust, and a higher success rate in prosecuting cases. However, it could be perceived as compromising her principles and failing to address police misconduct.

Decision and Ethical Basis: The decision that Jessica should make is to prioritize maintaining a working relationship with the police department by modifying her approach, while also addressing police misconduct within the existing legal framework.

The ethical basis for this decision can be derived from a utilitarian perspective, where the greatest good for the greatest number of people is sought. By adjusting her approach, Jessica can improve the functioning of the criminal justice system as a whole, which ultimately benefits the community by ensuring that criminals are held accountable and justice is served. Moreover, by fostering cooperation with the police department, she can also address the concerns and needs of the victims and the community.

Connection to Ethical Theories: The decision to modify her approach aligns with consequentialist ethical theories, such as utilitarianism. Jessica considers the overall consequences of her actions and seeks to maximize the well-being of the community. By prioritizing successful prosecutions and maintaining a working relationship with the police department, she aims to achieve the greatest overall benefit, rather than solely focusing on individual cases or personal principles.

Additionally, this decision also reflects elements of virtue ethics. Jessica demonstrates virtues such as practical wisdom, empathy, and the ability to navigate complex situations. By adapting her approach, she shows a commitment to justice and the well-being of the community, while also considering the practical constraints and challenges faced by the criminal justice system.

3. The Officer

Scot is still on probation as a police department rookie. While on probation he can be dismissed at any time for any reason and would not be entitled to a trail board or hearing prior to dismissal.

During the course of his patrol duties Scot has cause to stop a car for a legitimate but minor traffic violation. The motorist was highly agitated at being stopped “for no reason” and, using a variety of obscene references and racial slurs, adamantly expressed how upset he was. Agitated, Scot told the man to exit the vehicle and place his hands on the hood of his car. Scot looked through the car interior, and then took the keys out of the ignition to open the trunk. Seeing what Scot was doing the driver told Scot to stop and that he could absolutely not search the trunk of the car. Ignoring this, Scot opened the trunk and discovered in plain view a large, clear plastic bag containing thousands of pharmaceutical-type capsules. Scot could hear the driver screaming, “That ain’t mine. That ain’t mine.” Scot suddenly realized he has committed an illegal search. What should Scot do?


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