Contemporary Issues in Criminal Justice
There lies a very thin line between enforcing the law and protecting the civil liberties of the citizens officers are sworn to protect. Every day there are stories all over the news and the internet about law enforcement officers infringing upon the civil liberties of citizens, and subsequently either being punished or allowing a guilty man to walk free. The sad truth is that most of these situations are completely avoidable if they are adequately addressed in the classroom.
Most police officers do not have law degrees. Although many do have college degrees, often in Criminal Justice or similar, the reality is what goes on in the field is very often not what is taught in the classroom, and mistakes are made. In addition, there is very often a time lapse between when constitutional principles are hammered home, and when a new officer is put on the street. This has created a very serious problem in law enforcement that can be corrected with better practices in the classroom.
As either an educator or a student of criminal justice, it is very important to keep these basic constitutional principles in mind at all times:
- Fifth Amendment Protections: The founding fathers placed the Fifth Amendment in the Constitution specifically to protect the civil liberties of those accused of crimes. This is not to be taken lightly--protection of civil liberties is one of the reasons the American Revolution happened at all. It is important to understand the principles of self-incrimination, double jeopardy, and especially due process--to make sure the legal system protects all rights of citizens.
- The Rights of the Accused: The Second Amendment contained in the Bill of Rights very clearly outlines the rights afforded to every person accused of a crime. These are principles that must always be maintained to properly enforce the law, and include the right to a fair trial, the right to unreasonable searches, as well as what is possibly the most important and controversial right, habeus corpus. Law enforcement has a burden to charge any arrested person being detained with a felony within 24 hours of their arrest. Recently, especially since the use of Guantanamo Bay and rendition to other countries as means of detention and interrogation, this line has blurred significantly.
- Discretion in the Use of Force: This is a gray area in the law--simply to effectively do their job, police officers are given a certain amount of discretion when it comes to the use of force. Does someone resisting arrest, but really posing little to no danger to the arresting officers or bystanders, need to be punched or hit with a baton? On the other side of the coin, could that same person be carrying a knife? The answer is truly there is no answer: law enforcement officers and instructors need to exercise proper discretion. You must keep yourself and others safe, while using the least amount of force possible. Do not treat a 110 pound girl the same way you would a 210 pound man unless absolutely necessary.
Most of the above issues are things both law enforcement officers and their instructors know in their heads, but find it increasingly hard to put into practice. Criminals are only getting more innovative and subsequently dangerous, making it all the more important to follow the protocols put in place for the protection of all citizens.
Use of proper discretion and protocol when on the job allows the justice system to work the way it was intended to by the same men who put in place the above protections. Do not allow yourself or your students' knowledge of civil liberties in law enforcement stop at Miranda.
About AJ Romano
I am a life long student who believes ardently in the Socratic method. I love to read, absorb information, and write--write--and write some more! I live to learn, teach, and for my lovely fiance.