remorse-detectingremorsepaper.doc

In another case a young womans attempted suicide

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for the rest of his life.” In another case, a young woman’s attempted suicide after she was caught stealing from her employer was characterized by her probation officer and accepted by the court as “ remorse exhibited to the nth degree.” Tearful words, trembling hands, looking ‘downhearted and distraught’ were other signs that were taken as valid indications of remorse in other cases. There is at least some evidence here of a moral economism in which the more serious the offence, the more dramatic must be the offender’s suffering in order for it to be validated. For example, by characterizing the young woman’s attempted suicide as ‘remorse to the nth degree’ there is an implication that the expression involved greater suffering than -20-
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what was required. In the case of manslaughter, the suicidal thoughts of the offender are taken as commensurate with the gravity of the crime. A remorseful person is, in addition, someone who undertakes to make fundamental changes in their private self or personal identity. This can be manifested in a willingness to enter therapy or sensitivity training or through religious conversion. In one case involving embezzlement, the offender told the court- “ yes- I would like to say how remorseful I am for what I have done... Who I’d really like to thank is Jesus Christ who is the Lord of my life now, I believe. That’s all I can say. And I’m sorry for what I did.” The court acknowleged that the sentence would have been higher had it not been for this expression of remorse. In such terms does the court establish the vocabulary of expressions of remorse that will be accredited by the state. -21-
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But what disqualifies a claim to remorse is equally revealing. Most obviously, someone who protests their innocence after they have been convicted demonstrates an absence of remorse. In one case, an offender who had been convicted of sexual abuse of a young girl told the court- “Yes sir, your honour, I’ve talked with (my lawyer) about the remorse factor. I can’t show remorse for something I didn’t do. As much as I know that it would probably reduce any sentence that would be imposed on me,(to) the day I die I’ll protest my innocence.” Such lack of remorse occurs not only among those who declare their innocence but also among those whose version of the crime differs from that of the court and who continue to claim, for example, self- defense or provocation where the court has found assault or murder. Yet even an admission of guilt may be viewed as lacking in remorse if the offender offers excuses for their conduct by diverting blame to the victim or by invoking -22-
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environmental factors as possible explanations for the criminal act such as one’s own victimization or experience of deprivation. In reply to a man who had stated “I am sorry that it happened; it was the booze” after his conviction for the murder of a police officer, the judge remarked that “the offender’s comment about ‘the booze’ displayed a profound absence of remorse ... and his dismal inability to appreciate
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