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Corruption in a Criminal Justice System

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The purpose of a criminal justice system is to reprimand those who have broken the law while maintaining societal order. However, nothing manufactured by humans is without flaw. There have been countless instances of corruption in the criminal justice system, which have drastically altered the outcome of numerous cases. Over the past few decades, government officials in various countries have begun to recognize the issues caused by corruption, and have created anti-corruption plans and institutions as a result. Despite these efforts, corruption has remained an infamous force worldwide. The presence of corruption in criminal justice systems around the world jeopardizes the safety of the people, continues the cycle of crime, and challenges the idea of what is fundamentally a fair system. It is reasonable to conclude that the higher the prevalence of corruption in a certain country, the more dangerous the nation is.

The 2017 Global Peace Index (GPI) report analyzed how peaceful various nations were according to a variety of factors such as safety and security, militarization, internal conflict, and even relations with neighboring countries, to name a few. These indicators were carefully measured, and each of the 163 countries included in the report were assigned scores and rankings determined by these measurements. The five highest-ranking countries overall were, in descending order, Iceland, New Zealand, Portugal, Austria, and Denmark. The lowest-ranking countries on the list include Yemen, South Sudan, Iraq, Afghanistan, and lastly, Syria. In order to draw conclusions about whether or not peace and corruption truly correspond with each other, the aforementioned Global Peace Index results can be compared to that of Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index (CPI). Individuals worldwide reported the perceived corruption level of their home countries while experts conducted various assessments of the nations.

The scale upon which the 176 countries were scored ranged from zero to one hundred. Zero represented the highest prevalence of corruption while one hundred represented the lowest. The nations were then ranked from highest to lowest in accordance with their respective scores. Denmark and New Zealand were tied for first, followed by Finland, Sweden, and Switzerland. The countries at the bottom of the list were Libya, Sudan and Yemen, which were tied at 170, followed by Syria, North Korea, Sudan, and Somalia. Clearly, the countries did not correlate exactly in their GPI and CPI rankings. There were quite a few distinct similarities, nonetheless. Denmark and New Zealand ranked in the top five of both of these lists, and Yemen, Sudan, and Syria remained amongst the lowest-ranking countries on each list. Iceland, the most peaceful country, was ranked within the top twenty on the CPI. While the majority of the nations had similar ranks in terms of peace and corruption, there was a notable exception to the rule. The United States, which is ranked eighteen on the CPI, is ranked at 114 on the GPI. The latter score, which is eleven positions lower than the country’s rank from 2016, is credited to an increase in internal conflict, homicide rates, and “a declining level of trust in government and other citizens which has generated a deterioration in the score for level of perceived criminality in society”. Nearly all other countries included in the two reports, though, displayed very similar rankings, demonstrating a significant correlation between the amount of corruption in a nation and its peace and safety.

One way in which corruption can cause societies to become more dangerous is by continuing the cycle of crime. Due to their fundamental similarities, the criminal justice system of every nation should be able to function so long as the compliance of the people is present. There are a few theories to explain why people generally comply with authority, one of which being the principle of audience legitimacy. This can be defined as the perceived effectiveness of authority figures by audience members, or citizens, of a given country). However, since there is currently no single proven reason to explain why people tend to comply with the law, this remains one of many theories. What is known for certain is that the compliance of the people with law enforcement officials begins to decline as corruption grows in prevalence. “…even a small number of corruption cases…will negatively impact the public because it is precisely this system that punishes corruption in other sectors. This leads to a decrease in public confidence…and strengthens doubts…”. In a criminal justice system that is free of corruption, the criminal process will proceed in the manner in which it is intended to, meaning about eleven steps will be followed, depending on the complexity of the case. Simply put, if an investigation occurs and someone is charged with a crime as a result, the accused individual can either take a plea deal or go to trial. The attorney for the accused, who is referred to as the defendant during the trial, will defend them against the prosecutor, who has the job of proving that the defendant committed the particular crime. Members of a jury, or a judge, will then find the defendant either innocent or guilty based solely upon the evidence and testimonies presented. While the United States’ criminal justice process is not utilized by other countries, it can be used as an example of a fundamentally just system.

Although a system may fundamentally be fair and just, as is the case in a large number of countries, it may diverge from this theoretical layout in practice. Often, this divergence is due to various forms of corruption. The most accurate definition of corruption is “the abuse of entrusted power for personal gain”. The four main types of corruption that appear during the criminal trial process are political interference; extortion of victims, witnesses, or officials; nepotism that benefits those close to the case; and misuse of court funds and resources. One of the most common forms of corruption is bribery. Bribing someone or accepting a bribe is a crime in itself; according to 18 USC §201, being convicted of a single count “can result in fines up to triple the amount of the bribe, as many as 15 years in prison, and a sanction disqualifying the defendant from holding public office in the future”. Officials who engage in this illicit activity undermine the exact purpose of criminal justice. The criminal justice system should discipline, then rehabilitate, those who have committed a crime. However, bribery and other forms of corruption prevent the proper execution of justice. Criminals who have bribed a judge or jury members are more likely to receive an innocent verdict, regardless of whether or not they were the true perpetrator of the crime.

Going against the established justice system procedures creates injustice, which becomes apparent after corruption is revealed to be at least somewhat prevalent. As corruption increases, citizens begin to distrust the criminal justice system, causing a variety of issues for citizens and officials alike. People will begin to believe that using corrupt tactics is an effective way to get the outcome they desire. “…and it will generate the perception that corruption is the only way to obtain high-quality services, thus encouraging the public to further resort to it…which will weaken the concept of democracy itself”. Once a few people begin to view the use of corrupt methods as an effective way to receive the outcome they want, others will use them as well. As for officials, rather than attempting to correct corruption, they may pass the blame onto only those who have contributed to corruption directly, rather than using the exposure of a corruption scandal as an opportunity to correct the entire system. “Blaming a few rotten apples can become an excuse for commanding officers to deny that a more systemic problem exists”. This is merely one of the incorrect ways corruption is handled, but it is not the worst. Ignoring the issue may be worse than blaming another person or group of people. Failing to recognize corruption simply encourages it to persist, and a justice system full of corruption engages in the same type of activity it is intended to correct: criminal.

A number of countries have begun to address corruption in their criminal justice systems, including France, the United Kingdom, the United States, Romania, Kenya, and Malaysia, to name a few. France recently implemented the French Anti-Corruption Agency, referred to as the AFA. This agency was created under a new, anti-corruption law referred to as Loi Sapin II, which was passed on the eighth of November, 2016. In 2014, the United Kingdom released its anti-corruption plan. The report detailed the implementation of four basic principles: pursue, prevent, protect, and prepare. There is also a large focus on informing other countries of the risks of corruption and seeking to eliminate corruption in countries in addition to the United Kingdom. In the United States, there are Internal Affairs units of police departments, which “…investigate resident complaints and administrative rule violations alleged against police personnel and report the results of such investigations to the Chief of Police; and advocate resident and administrative complaints at department hearings and boards”. A variety of principles and laws have been put into place with the intention of targeting more specific branches of the justice system. In Frank Schmalleger’s book Criminal Justice: A Brief Introduction, he describes various principles that regulate the actions of criminal justice officials. For example, the exclusionary rule prevents illegally seized evidence to be used in trial, thereby preventing a large portion of police officers from unjustly charging an individual.

Corruption poses an enormous threat to the criminal justice system. It jeopardizes the safety of the people, continues the cycle of crime, and challenges the idea of what is fundamentally a fair system. By eliminating this threat, the justice systems of various countries have the ability to function properly and in a fair, just manner. Criminals will be punished for their actions, innocent people will not be unjustly reprimanded, officials will do their jobs in accordance with regulations, and the entire system can operate in its intended manner. The criminal justice system should eliminate crime, not become part of it.

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Corruption in a Criminal Justice System. (2020, December 10). GradesFixer. Retrieved September 30, 2022, from
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