Ethics

Additional Information

TEACHING ETHICS THROUGHOUT THE CURRICULUM

Case 37. Respondent Confidentiality

Situation

During the course of research on a college student population, which was approved by a local institutional review board (IRB), a woman student, Jean Langlais, is murdered. The police sergeant, Jim Chona, believes she met the perpetrator at the bar where John Cultu conducted months of observations and numerous interviews. Sergeant Chona hears from local bar patrons about the research and calls Dr. Cultu in for an interview. Chona presents a physical and psychological profile that very accurately reflects one of his informants. Dr. Cultu taped an interview with this informant two weeks prior to the murder, and that taped interview contains only demographic and attitudinal information. The "suspect" makes no explicit references to murder or a threat of murder, but does imply that he has substantial hatred for young women who frequent bars. The police want access to Dr. Cultu's research materials. Does he cooperate with the police? At what level? 

A year later, DNA evidence confirms Dr. Cultu's suspicions and he is again asked, but not subpoenaed, to provide the interview information on the "suspect". 

Questions

  1. Does a subpoena supersede the promise of confidentiality? 
  2. Does threat of contempt of court supersede that promise?
  3. Is there a point at which the risk to others supersedes the informant's promise of confidentiality? Where is this point? 
  4. Should you maintain your field notes and tapes in such a manner that they can be moved from legal judicial purview?

Reflect on the above questions and form your own answers before clicking the Discussion key to review the commentary provided with this case.

 

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