1. Legal rules by themselves are not sufficient to guide police actions in regards to searches and seizures, because people have a right to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures. The concept of “due cause” is pertinent here, because police are not able to issue warrants without it, and these must be supported by oath or affirmation in regards to whom, what, and where a search is taking place. Probable cause refers to a reasonable association between a specific person and a certain crime, given the “totality of circumstances”. The police must have evidence that supports probable cause in order to obtain a warrant; otherwise, people might be subject to random searches and seizures that are not based on any concrete reasons, and might give the police so much discretionary power that it could used in a potentially abusive manner.
2. Police have a significant moral obligation to evaluate whether or not a person appearing to point a gun at an officer actually wants to be shot as a method of suicide. Although these incidents clearly often occur on the spur of the moment when police have to make a quick decision whether or not their lives are in jeopardy, ideally they would be able to take the opportunity to evaluate the situation before shooting by asking the person several times to put the gun down. A person who wants to be shot by the police as a matter of suicide is obviously suffering from depression or other problems that cause despair, and that person can certainly be treated by a doctor, medication, therapy, or combinations of all of these so that his or her mental condition can improve. Whenever possible, police need to take this opportunity, both for the good of the victim as well as the police officer; police are frequently traumatized when they have to shoot and/or kill another human being, and so if they collaborate with a person to help him or her commit suicide, that officer may be left with his or her own psychological baggage in relation to that death. Any time an officer discharges a weapon, questions are asked, externally and internally, so it is always best for an officer to avoid using a weapon if the person is not seriously threatening anyone. Again, this being said, there are situations where the officers do not have the luxury of taking time to assess the danger, and react instantaneously, thereby unavoidably granting the person his wish to commit suicide.

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3. Given the abuse of investigative powers in cases pertaining to any records, it is morally permissible to eliminate these powers if the pursuit of such material occurs illegally or deceptively. Certainly, law enforcement such as FBI agents has the right to pursue investigations, but there needs to be oversight about their ability to request such records. In the instances cited, the “exigent letters” contained information that was false and which ultimately allowed the FBI to obtain records illegally. Legitimate records could be obtained by the FBI using warrants or subpoenas only, because that would require a third-party, namely a judge, to be involved in making determinations about whether or not the requests are appropriate.

In view of the findings of the Inspector General, it should be morally permissible to continue these investigative powers but only if they are exercised when following already established procedures such as those mentioned above. For the purposes of investigation, FBI should be able to obtain electronic records, telephone, travel records, and financial information but as stated, they must be required to pursue these actions through legitimate channels and which do not include simply writing letters. Instead, there should be a more formal means of request, such as a warrant.

  • Material taken from Professional Ethics in Criminal Justice: Being Ethical When No One Is Looking, 3rd Ed., Jay S. Albanese