remorse-detectingremorsepaper.doc

Morally worthy offender is showing to the court and

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morally worthy offender is showing to the court and to the community that the hurt they have inflicted on the community is more or less equal to the hurt they cannot help but inflict on themselves. From the vantage point of the court, feelings of remorse bear witness to the -32-
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hold that community has over the offender;they show that the remorseful self- the self that is loyal to community- is more real than the transgressive self that has betrayed community. Not only does the court define who is a member through this process but also which moral allegiances will constitute membership. Are there offences that do not require the offender to express remorse? Are there other offenses that are perceived as so brutal and heinous that no demonstration of remorse is sufficient to re-establish the offender as a morally worthy subject? 19 Deciding how and whether remorse must be expressed for different offenses helps to shape the moral boundaries of community by defining those criminal acts that require a show of remorse to validate the offender as a morally worthy subject and those criminal acts that place the offender permanently outside the common moral community. -33-
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But the court is not the only arbiter of what constitutes the moral community and who is a member and who is not. Some offenders refuse to show remorse because they belong to different moral communities that espouse values that are in conflict with those of the court. For such persons, to show remorse for actions undertaken in defense of their values would signify an abandonment of their own moral community. 20 Other offenders fail to show remorse because they are members of groups that can impose pressures that are as compelling as those that can be mobilized by the court. In the British documentary Lifer(1982), there is a brief segment in which an inmate of an English prison tells the interviewer that he dare not reveal his feelings of remorse to officials of the state for fear that he will be viewed as a traitor by his fellow prisoners. Just as refusal to show remorse may result in designation as a morally unworthy person by the state, so a full expression of remorse can become an -34-
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act of surrender that may lead to exclusion from a group that defines itself in opposition to the state. The demand that offenders show remorse and that this remorse be fully credible is often not simply a demand to display one’s conscience before the court but a demand to replace one set of moral allegiances with a new set of moral allegiances. Thus, the detection of remorse by the court tells us not only about the membership-defining and boundary- creating activity of the court but also about these same processes in other groups. NOTES -35-
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1.A casual search through the archives of major newspapers in North America will yield many articles in which the offender’s demonstration of remorse is mentioned in the article.
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