Simply speaking, ethics refers to the concept of right and wrong. Things are considered ethical when they are right or good, and unethical when they are wrong or bad. Ethics plays a role in nearly everything people do, from shopping and driving to raising children and working. Ethics are critical to the health of the criminal justice system in general and they play a role in all cases, including homicide cases. Just what kind of role ethics play depends on the players and the case.
One ethical issue in homicide investigations is planting evidence. There are stories on the news all the time about how criminals are being released because there was not enough evidence to support a conviction. There have also been cases where officers have planted evidence in an attempt to get a known criminal off the streets. These officers feel this is justified because even if there is not enough evidence to convict a suspect of this crime, they have committed other crimes and should be punished for them. This is certainly an example of unethical behavior in the criminal justice system.
Officers of the law are often called upon to give testimonies in court. When they become officers they take an oath to serve and protect, and they take another oath when they take the stand to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Ethically speaking, the officers testifying should do just that – tell nothing but the truth. There are times, however, when officers will falsify testimony in an attempt to get the outcome they feel is right. Falsifying testimony is unethical. It is up to the lawyers to make their cases and up to a judge and jury to determine innocence or guilt.
When an officer or someone that an officer knows is killed in a homicide, other officers often seek retribution. There have been cases where suspects are killed or severely injured during transport after being arrested for killing an officer. Some may argue that this “eye for an eye” method of justice is warranted, but it is not a police officer's job to mete out punishment for crimes.
All police officers are humans, dealing with human emotions and perhaps even prejudices. As such, it is important for any officer working on any type of case to excuse himself if personal experiences prevent him from being objective and doing his job to the best of his ability. It would be unethical for an officer who has had personal experiences with a particular type of crime to work that crime if they are still affected by their past experience. For example, if a police officer’s brother was gunned down in a gang war, that officer might not be able to remain impartial and report the facts and evidence correctly on a gang-related murder case.