Remorse & Sentencing: Just How Much Weight Should You Give To It?

Judges make decisions at sentencing every day — and factor in the defendant’s remorse. Sometimes the term used is “acceptance of responsibility,” but the bottom line is:  perception of remorse frequently helps temper the sentence.

But, what if the perception of remorse is inaccurate?  There is an interesting paper on the subject of remorse, written by Professor Susan Bandes of DePaul University College of Law.

The abstract begins:

 A defendant’s failure to show remorse is one of the most powerful factors in criminal sentencing, including capital sentencing. Yet there is currently no evidence that remorse can be accurately evaluated in a courtroom. Conversely there is evidence that race and other impermissible factors create hurdles to evaluating remorse. There is thus an urgent need for studies about whether and how remorse can be accurately evaluated. Moreover, there is little evidence that remorse is correlated with future law-abiding behavior or other legitimate penal purposes, and, in fact, there is evidence that remorse is often conflated with shame, which is correlated with increased future criminality. More accurate information on the nature and evaluation of remorse can be used to reform the criminal justice system. 

The paper is available here:


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