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The Great Divide–Ethics Codes & Unethical Behavior May 30, 2011

Posted by legalethicsemporium in Criminal law, Education, ethical decision making, ethics codes, Law, Ethics & Society, Mindfulness.
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Really, does one need a formal ethics code to restrain a person from unwarranted and non-consensual sexual behavior visited upon another? Does an ethics code in the work place inhibit an employee from cheating on his/her spouse? (Or even inhibit supporting dueling pregnancies or running for president in the midst of marital infidelity?)  Is a “close relationship” with a subordinate at work only a “potential” conflict of interest?  Please, someone enlighten me!

While today’s New York Times article on the International Monetary Fund does provide insight into the two tiered system of ethics codes and enforcement systems within that organization, it really does not provide any enlightenment into the impact of those codes on human behavior. Nor does it note the distinction between unethical behavior in ones professional life and personal life–although some would argue that this is a distinction without a difference.  However, think inappropriate gifting to impact government decision-making or sexual harassment on the job as professional life settings and infidelity occurring outside of the workplace as personal.

Clearly the New York Times did not seek to explore the psychological underpinnings of human behavior in today’s article;  it is simply reporting upon and providing insight into the inner-workings of the  ethics codes and enforcement at the IMF. The impetus for the article is the recent resignation of the IMF Managing Director,“Dominique Strauss-Kahn, on charges of sexually assaulting a hotel housekeeper in New York. Mr. Strauss-Kahn, who denies the charges, has resigned his position at the fund.”

It just seems that there is a disconnect between whatever flaws there may be in the IMF ethics procedures and the alleged behavior of its Managing Director.  One has to wonder whether a more  transparent ethics procedure equipped with greater sanctions would really deter an alleged sexual assault. [We have criminal statutes that certainly do not deter individuals from criminal conduct, including sexual assault,–certainly one may argue that engaging in criminal behavior is generally unethical–although that is a much larger topic.]

So, what’s the point?  The point is that as a society we need to encourage a culture of ethical behavior and develop a consensus as to whether there is some behavior, conducted in a personal or professional setting, that reflects such a lack of judgement as to disqualify the individual from certain positions in society.  It is an evolving process–one that is aided by ethics codes that guide and create the minimum standards of conduct that we require in a particular setting.  However, until we further understand and address the psychological underpinnings of  decision-making and the role of ethics in the actual moment of the decision, ethics codes, such as the one that exists at IMF, will probably have little impact on behavior such as the alleged sexual assault and resignation of its Managing Director.


Sticks & Stones May Break My Bones, But Guns Can Always Kill Me: Rhetoric & Violence in Tucson January 11, 2011

Posted by legalethicsemporium in Criminal law, Gun Control, Law, Ethics & Society, U.S. Constitution.
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There is little to be said that has not already been said about the tragic shooting in Tucson that killed 6 and wounded many others including Representative Gabrielle Giffords.  The media and internet is inundated with analysis attempting to explain/blame the impact of the vitriolic, hyperbolic political rhetoric that has become the mainstay of many politicians, bloggers, and media coverage.

However, regardless of the sociological debate about the ability of words to incite violence in an already unbalanced human being, one simple, bare fact remains true.  If it weren’t so easy to purchase a semi-automatic pistol that holds 30 rounds of ammunition then maybe 20 people would not have been shot instantaneously.

As Robert Dallek writes, “Only one thing seems certain in trying to understand the gap between rhetoric and action in our national discussions about violence in America: the ease with which perpetrators can acquire the means to commit mass murder. However often we lament the horrors committed by deranged killers, we seem incapable of reining in the capacity of the murders’ ability to acquire the handguns, automatic weapons, and rifles they use to create such mayhem.”

In fact, the New York Times reports that, “Arizona’s gun laws stand out as among the most permissive in the country. Last year, Arizona became only the third state that does not require a permit to carry a concealed weapon. The state also enacted another measure that allowed workers to take their guns to work, even if their workplaces banned firearms, as long as they kept them in their locked vehicles. In 2009, a law went into effect allowing people with concealed-weapons permits to take their guns into restaurants and bars…

In the last two weeks, two bills were introduced relating to the right to carry guns on college campuses, one allowing professors to carry concealed weapons and one allowing anybody who can legally carry a gun to do so.”

Query: Even if the Founding Fathers envisioned that the Second Amendment would ultimately permit citizens to own hand guns for use beyond the needs of forming a state militia–which is the subject of vehement debate in our country–does any private citizen really need a concealed weapon that holds a 30 round magazine?


The Dollars and Sense of Criminal Justice: Missouri Provides Its Judges With the Cost of Incarceration September 19, 2010

Posted by legalethicsemporium in Criminal law, Law, Ethics & Society, U.S. Constitution.
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Should the fact that it costs about a half million dollars to incarcerate a convicted felon for 30 years be a consideration for the sentencing judge?  Or should it be an issue to be raised by defense counsel at a sentencing hearing?  What about the fact that an individual convicted of robbery could be sentenced to intensive probation at a cost of $9,000.00, but the designated incarceration will cost  the state $50,000.00?

Criminal activity and the resulting prosecution and incarceration in our country costs billions of dollars a year. The Center for Economic and Policy Research reported in June, 2010: that “the United States currently incarcerates a higher percentage of its population than any other country in the world. In 2008, over 2.3 million Americans were in prison or jail, and one of every 48 working-age men was behind bars. These rates are not just far above those of the rest of the world, they are also substantially higher than our own long-standing historical experience. The financial costs of our corrections policies are staggering. In 2008, federal, state, and local governments spent about $75 billion on corrections, the large majority of which was spent on incarceration.”

The Missouri Sentencing Commission is providing its judges with the cost of incarceration as additional information that may be considered when imposing a sentence.  The cost to society of releasing criminals as a result of shorter sentences or probation may be balanced against the literal cost of sending these people to prison.

It is a cost benefit analysis that ultimately has overall cost to society as its focus.   The question for some, is whether this type of calculation is appropriate in the criminal justice system.  Is it a necessary reality check or is the value of punishing criminal behavior priceless?  Are certain types of crime worth the punishment while others not so much?  The judgement is ours to render.

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