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Police is the primary investigator of the crime as they are responsible for the investigation work. There are different kinds of method for them to obtain evidence, for example, interview or crime scene investigation, etc. Sanders and Young (2007 : 281) stated that ' the police get information from a range of resources', with this wide range of resources, public start to doubt that is the police methods of obtaining evidence always fair and/or justifiable. In this essay, we will talk about both common and some special methods used by the police to obtain evidence, also we will further discus their fairness and justifiability.
Evidence is an important element of a crime, it can be the voice of defendants and victims. Police needs to prepare evidence for trial and show that the caught suspect is suspicious enough to arrest. You may want to ask 'what should be classify as evidence' and 'how to collect such evidence'. There is no fixed guideline for the police about how to obtain evidence, they may use some traditional methods, also, they may use some special methods, someone may call them 'dirty tactics' to collect evidence. However, it doesn't mean that the traditional methods are always fair and justifiable.
Here we will talk about the commonly used tradition methods, they involve examination of scene and questioning of witnesses, suspects and victims.
According to Dutelle, A. R. (2011: 14) there are two main categories of evidences. The first one is the real or physical evidence, and the second one is testimonial evidence. Real or physical evidence are physical existence, they have different forms of existence, for example, fingerprint, blood and biological evidence or firearm evidence, etc. These evidences are collected from the crime scene.
For the testimonial evidence, it is the vocal statement made by the related parties of the crime, like the suspects, victims or witnesses, etc. We should notice that these statements will be treated as lies until other physical evidence appear to prove its accuracy. Although the police are responsible for collecting these evidences from the related parties, they still cannot make sure the credibility of those vocal statements. Under the 'lie' assumption, it can protect the fairness and justifiability of the investigation methods.
For the above evidences, they are collected through the methods of physical examination and interview. And the British government tried to set up a kind of legislative framework to ensure the fairness and justifiability of the police investigation work. Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 is the Act that specially set up to 'make further provision in relation to the powers and duties of the police, persons in police detention, criminal evidence, police discipline and complaints against the police; to provide for arrangements for obtaining the views of the community on policing and for a rank of deputy chief constable; to amend the law relating to the Police Federations and Police Forces and Police Cadets in Scotland; and for connected purposes.' (The National Archives,1984) However, there are still something unfair or unjustifiable during the investigation process.
The first problem is about the questionable use of police discretion power. Because of the 'cop-culture' inside the police force, it is unavoidable that the police always believes what they think are the truth. This culture and thought will definitely affect the process of investigation. They believe that base on their own different investigation experience, they have ability to guess and decide who are the suspects. Under their own assumption, they will choose the evidence or even construct the case. The police will follow their assumption to obtain evidence and choose what to search, they may ignore some points of evidence in a certain degree of discretion. Public also concerns about the race discrimination problem may occur during the process of investigation. Discrimination will affect their assumption, for example, many US police assume that young black men always involve in crime, and the rate of stop and search of young black men is much higher than whites.
For all this, people may start to doubt whether the police assumption is correct, and it is unavoidable that how some people may be unfairly targeted. The way that police decide whether to obtain evidence will be unfair for innocents and the way police make assumption will not be unjustified by the society.
Although police are asked to be objectively while they are doing the investigation, this is not that easy. There is no way to control the method of obtaining evidence and the way of interpretation. Although the whole process of examination with suspects will be recorded in writhing, we cannot make sure the way of examination is fair for everyone. Moreover, it may relate to the problem of 'abuse of power' and affect the fairness. It is not surprise to hear some public complaints about the police use coercive force during the interview with suspects or even victims. You may want to ask why police need to use such power during the investigation. The very simple reason is that the police cannot collect the evidence they want from the suspects or victims, because of this, they may use some ways to force them to say what they want. About this way of obtaining evidence, it must be unjustifiable as those are not the real evidence and it is not the way of collecting evidence but only construction of evidence.
Although there will be many physical evidence exist in the crime scene, they may not absolutely comprehensive and this require the help of technology. Science and technology is one of the useful methods to find out the very truth and give a big hand to the police investigation. To collect and preserve most evidence from the crime scene is the work of forensic experts, they help the police to obtain more evidence during the investigation. As I mention above, those physical evidence can be some intimate samples like fingerprints, blood or hair, etc. And for the non-intimate samples, for example, the telecommunication records or band transaction records, police can obtain evidence from organizations and require them to provide certain suspicious person's information without suspects' consent.
Different countries have set up different rules to regulate the collection of these intimate samples. Most samples should be collect with suspect consent and require authorization by a police inspector. And if the suspect is not arrested, they must destroy those samples. It seems that it is fair and justifiable to use this scientific method to obtain evidence. However, there still have arguments about it. But for the non-intimate samples, as they can be collected without suspects' consent, some private personal information may be invaded anonymously.
As the police will compare those DNA or fingerprints of suspect with those obtain in the crime scene, it may lead to the problem of violation of human rights. For those who are wrongly targeted, their DNA or fingerprints are obtained wrongly and they may feel they are treated unfairly.
For some newly methods used by police are related to science and technology, it includes the use of new surveillance, like visual and audio surveillance. Video cameras or pinhole lens will be installed in many public areas, they are used to monitor the activities in the areas and prevent crime. Of course, the recordings will be used as evidence if crime has been committed in certain recorded areas. Under the monitoring of surveillance devices, everyone become the target and most of them have low awareness of it. Their participations are involuntary as they have no rights to say no for the monitoring, and their privacy is invaded. There have many controversies about the use of these new surveillances, especially the use of CCTV as evidence, as the public feel unfair to be the suspects without reason.
The use of new science and technologies cost large amount of money, but it may not help anything of obtaining evidence. Although those trace evidence can help to tell who did the thing or who did appear, the most important element is they should at least have one suspect as they can make comparison or checkup. In this case, if there is no suspect or the suspect is wrongly targeted, it is meaningless to have such technologies. Because of this, some people even doubt the usefulness of these science and technologies. And these new form of technologies are expensive, this may not be the method that is justifiable indeed.
Apart from the above methods, there are still some special methods which some people termed them as 'dirty tactics'. We will mainly talk about the undercover operation, entrapment and the use of informants. According to Gaines, L. K. & Miller, R. L. (2008: 176 ), he believes that interaction is needed as it may be the best way of collecting evidence and he termed these methods as 'aggressive investigation strategies". Other than collecting evidence from the suspects and victims directly, it is believed that it is very useful to ask someone who are inside the crime network or even pretend and act as a member of the crime organizations.
The most controversial operation must be go undercover. Being an undercover, the person will appear with a 'fake' identity, he or she may pretend as a drug dealer or even a prostitute. The main purpose of acting is to get closer with the crime and collect evidence of crime. Although there are guidelines set up for such special investigative operation, like this kind of operation will be used only when the crime is taking place at the moment. But who can make sure the crime is really happening? As we should understand that lies will be used in the undercover investigation, no matter to the target suspects or other innocent person, it has already involved a big ethical problem.
Police may set up deception as to entrap suspects or potential criminals, especially in the cases with no victim. Some people think that this is an unfair method to investigate, as they believe that one may not commit crime until they are giving chance to do so. It just like the police is trying to provide some opportunities for those potential criminals to commit crime. Police aims to find out who may commit crime and give an opportunity for themselves to arrest the criminals. This method in legal term is termed as 'entrapment', it occurs when an otherwise innocent person commits an illegal act because of police encouragement or enticement." (Pollock, J. M.,2011 :272),
With the above methods of obtaining evidence, do you think they are fair and justifiable? People may doubt the way of police investigating crime, for the public, they see that the police use the method of 'entrapment' to create crime instead of investigate crime. And criminals involved are just treated unfairly as they are not aim to commit crime but just the police provide them such opportunities. Obtaining evidence is to find something already happened, but not to find out something did not happen. The way of setting up deception is just like pushing the crime to occur, some people may think that this method is not justifiable as they think that the police should spend the resources on the present problems.
We may say that trap someone who have already committed crime is fair and justifiable, but to trap someone who may commit such crime deception, it is not ethical and fair to them. Using an illegal way to achieve such legal consequence is not true. The crime is not happened naturally as well as it happened only because the police push it and produce it.
The last method we are going to talk about is the use of informant. Confidential informants are not police officers but they will assist the investigation work of police, which to provide information for police. As we all know, it is not that easy for some strangers to join a crime network. Because of this, police will engage with some confidential informants, they are will be "involved in criminal activity and gives information about that activity" (Gaines, L. K. & Miller, R. L. 2008: 176) Some people may think that this method is not justifiable, it is because the police just like cooperate with illegal parties as they 'buy' information from them. 'Buy' does not only involve money transaction but also give them other kind of rewards, such as drugs. In this case, the police officers are violating law themselves.
Pollock, J. M (2011 : 279) also challenged that some police office may manufacture a confidential informant in order to get a search warrant. The police do not need to provide the personal information or even the identity of the informant as to protect them and their informant roles. Because of this, if the police cannot collect enough evidence for the application of a search warrant, they may 'produce' an imaginary informant as well as imaginary evidence. Of course, it is not a fair way for the police to obtain evidence.
Also, we should concern about the credibility of informants. No matter how, they are the members of illegal parties. We should not believe in them with no doubts, they may tell lies because of different purposes. Firstly, informants may want to get the rewards and they will try to 'produce' information themselves, etc. In this case, police is just doing illegal transaction with illegal parties with no purpose. Secondly, informants may want to defame their enemies and get some other rewards, like high position. This is unfair to those defamed by informants, and this may bring innocent case finally.
Using the above three methods to investigate crime and obtain evidences, the police is needed to deal with the criminals. Do you think that use illegal means to achieve legal ends is fair and justifiable? Probably, most of you will say "NO". Firstly, we should clarify that police is responsible for reducing crime, but not increasing crime. However, they are committing crime while they are helping to reduce crime.
Some may accept go undercover if the police really catch the target criminal and collect sufficient evidence to prosecute. However, if it failed, it will bring unexpected outcomes and no one can accept. According to Kleinig. J. (1996: 126), there will have at least three problems. Firstly, 'innocents will be harmed' as they are not related to the crime but they are also cheated by undercover, entrapments or those confidential informants. Secondly, 'the liar is harmed' as it is not easy to live with a liar role. They will be afraid of being discover or even they become suspect everyone around them. All these will harm the liar finally. Lastly, 'Social trust is destroyed' as lying is immoral in all the ways. All the parties involve will be hurt and the social harmony will be affected too.
Although these methods are complained by many publics, the utilitarian tries to a different explanation to support police of using 'deception' and undercover. They argued that the police do this to catch criminal only because they are just trying to provide a much safer environment to the society which is greatly benefit to society as well. (Pollock, J. M.,2011 :281),
To look over the commonly used methods of police obtaining evidence, we will find that they are not always fair and justifiable. Or we may say that it is not easy to do something fair for everyone and justifiable by everyone, as there are different related parties involve. It is not the same for all the public to define "fair" and "justifiable". Although many government did try to ensure the investigation works are doing fairly and justifiably, the police are empower by the public and they have certain discretion power in doing their work. The use of discretion power will directly affect the fairness and justifiability. And for those special methods, we should firstly understand it is difficult to gathering evidence and special techniques are needed. However, there are still many voices of 'unethical' and 'unfair' inside the society. Public dobut that the police is "using an immoral means to reach a moral end"(Pollock, J. M.,2011 :284), and they are problematic and unacceptable. With these complaints, we will see that these methods are not always fair and justifiable.
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