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Honesty vs. Justice

The question of the place of honesty in a system that promotes justice has spurred constant discussion in the field of Criminal Justice. The very question revolves around the problem of the extent that honesty could be skipped in the name of the pursuit of justice. This issue becomes very stark especially when the issue of the use of deception is used to be able to gain enough evidence, and therefore to pursue justice, in a criminal case. Could policemen reasonably use deception to get incriminating evidence? To be able to sufficiently discuss this problem, this paper shall first deal with the concepts of justice and honesty. Afterwards, this paper shall discuss the more concrete case of the use of deception in undercover investigation for a more concrete picture of the problem. Then, a short conclusion shall follow.

Retributive justice refers to “a systematic infliction of punishment justified on grounds that the wrongdoing committed by a criminal has created an imbalance in the social order that must be addressed by action against the criminal” (O’Connor, 2006). In this system, a criminal who, in accordance with the Model Penal Code purposely, negligently, knowingly, and recklessly created a certain imbalance by committing a criminal act ought to be rehabilitated through punishment.

One thing that ought to be clarified is the fact that in the retributive system, rehabilitation does not refer to concrete restoration of what was lost from the victim (this is restorative justice); instead, what is rehabilitated is the effect that a criminal act has on the state. It espouses a legalist morality wherein a punishment has to be done not to appease the emotional or physical trauma that a crime has done but plainly that “the necessity of punishment under retributivism must be done for no other reason than it needs to be done — cold, emotionless, and out of consideration for the state’s ‘will to power,’ the motive of power being the only motive worthy of ethical admiration” (O’Connor, 2006).

In contrast to how many think of retribution as taking revenge, retributive justice refers to plainly giving punishment because the state has to do so in accordance with its moral code (that has to be observed at all times, a legalist perspective of morality), and what has to be rehabilitated is the state’s power that gets imbalanced once a criminal act is done. This is not the state aiding in the vengeance of the victim; this is plainly the state doing what it should, as the law says, when a criminal act has been committed.

Restorative justice, on the other hand, refers to “a systematic response to wrongdoing that emphasizes healing the wounds of victims, offenders and communities caused or revealed by the criminal behavior” (O’Connor, 2006). This is the type of justice where the damage done to a victim is put into consideration. American legislation has many aspects containing restorative justice such as family law, environmental law, etcetera, which means that this sort of justice goes beyond the penal code.

What, then, is the place of honesty in either or both kinds of justice? In the pursuit of retributive justice, honesty is an ideal that may or may not always be enforced. In the pursuit of a criminal whose offense the state must put into place, the state may choose to use the many means at its hands to impose the necessary punishment. This is the justice system in many other countries, North Korea included.

Honesty, on the other hand, becomes a necessary factor in restorative justice. In cases of fraud, identity theft, and many other crimes where honesty has been undermined, the criminal ought to put this disorder through the aid of the state. The state then becomes a restorative agent that brings dignity back to be victim at the same time doing what it can to correct the offender.

The American Criminal Justice system is a combination of retributivist and restorative. As such, honesty may sometimes be plainly an ideal and sometimes a necessary element. We could see this concretely in individual cases of police deception. We will look at two cases where deception (by undercover cops) is involved.

The first case is the typical case of deception that is typically considered to not have any ethical dilemma (Marx, 1999). This is the case of the female undercover cop who pretends to be a helpless victim to catch a suspected rapist. Obviously, the female cop is not a helpless victim, there are many men watching her and ensuring her safety. It is also not a question whether she is trying to deceive. Deception is the main plot to catch the criminal. But, in the field of Criminal Justice, this sort of lack of honesty has no ethical problems.

The second case is the case that poses an ethical problem. This is the case of the undercover cop who uses a suspect sexually and gains her trust to get the necessary information. According to Gary Marx (1999), this case is ethically problematic, and can rarely be justified because it involves undermining intimate relationships, it involves seduction. In this instance, the suspect becomes some sort of a victim and according to restorative justice, such sort of policing should not be allowed because it plays with the very essence of honesty.

Thus, in the American system, honesty is sometimes an ideal that may or may not be put into consideration (such as the first case); but sometimes becomes the necessary factor that should be considered in determining the ethics of police activities.