A Case Where a Criminal Justice Professional Has been caught in Unethical Practices


Ethics entails the scrutiny of morality. That is, pointing out that which is right and wrong. Right and wrong practices are found in our everyday experiences such as in schools, places of worship and advances in the rules and regulations that one must abide by in society. In addition, its study has three branches, first, metaethics that deals with the interpretation of moral terms. Secondly, normative standards concerned with what people ought to do. Finally, applied standards concerned with the application of moral principles practically in various professions such as medicine and law (Worley, R., & Barua, V., 2009).

Criminal justice and values tend to converge. Government is mandated to protect its citizens. Criminal justice professionals are agents of the state who must uphold high moral character which serves to increase confidence of citizens in the state. They are expected to exercise discretion in the course of their careers particularly when faced by issues involving particular moral dilemma. However, this is not usually the case, as occasionally some criminal justice practitioners engage in malpractices that terminates their jobs (Worley, R., & Barua, V., 2009).

Unethical Behaviours and Defense Attorneys

Defense attorney ensures that defendants are not deprived of their due process rights. Their loyalty is inclined towards the defendant and not the public. However, at times, they may go overboard to prove their client’s innocence that hinders administration of justice. Notably, some have the audacity to behave unethically as was in the case between Burdine v. Johnson (2001).

In Burdine v. Johnson (2001) the defense attorney for a capital offense defendant kept falling asleep during a trial (“BURDINE v. JOHNSON – FindLaw,” 2000).. The defendant upon being convicted and sentenced to death appealed claiming that he was denied his constitutional right to effective representation. The Fifth Circuit ascertained that Burdine did not have effective counsel thus ordered a new trial.

However, the U.S Supreme Court refused to hear the case therefore denial of Burdine’s appeal. In Ex Parte McFarland (2005), the court of appeal ruled that even though the lead defense attorney had slept through parts of the proceedings he was not deprived his right of an assistant attorney (“BURDINE v. JOHNSON – FindLaw,” 2000).

The ethical dilemma is evident through the sleeping of the defense attorney in sections of the case. It denies proper representation of the defendant that is only possible after a complete knowledge of the facts and issues of the case (Vito, G. F. et al., 2006).Therefore, the defense attorney’s sleeping through parts of the proceedings denies his client effective representation.

The result of the case was that the defendant was convicted and sentenced to death. Officials under the then George W. Bush regime and his other successor upheld that sleeping of the lawyer did not deprive Burdine’s constitutional rights. In addition, they upheld that if the defendant was to be granted a new trial he would have to prove that his lawyer was not only asleep but also slept in critical sections of the proceedings (Weinstein, 2001).

Clearly though, that result was biased as it is one sided and does not consider Burdine’s ineffective representation. Burdine’s trial was unfair which is evident through consistent unconsciousness of his counsel. In this context, unconscious counsel adds up to not having a counsel at all (Weinstein, 2001).


Reference List

BURDINE v. JOHNSON – FindLaw. (2000, October 27). Retrieved June 1, 2014, from http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-5th-circuit/1203719.html

Weinstein, H. (2001, August 14). Ruling on Sleeping Lawyer – Los Angeles Times. Retrieved June 1, 2014, from http://articles.latimes.com/2001/aug/14/news/mn-33882

Worley, R., & Barua, V. (2009). Criminal justice ethics. In J. Miller (Ed.), 21st century

criminology: A reference handbook. (pp. 861-871). Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications, Inc.

Vito, G. F. et. al. (2006) “Criminology: theory, research, and policy” New Delhi: Jones & Bartlett Learning.



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