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The Remorse Fallacy

RobertU

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A criminal’s display of remorse if often used by a judge in determining length of sentence or by a parole board in deciding if a felon will be released from prison. But are demonstrations of remorse a valid consideration for anything?

Does a display of remorse simply give an advantage to the sly, manipulative offender who can say what the judge wants to hear and a disadvantage to the stupid pigheaded criminal who can’t talk his way out of anything? Even a seemingly genuine display of remorse can be suspect. We know, for example, that many wife beaters will tell their spouse how sorry they are and promise never to repeat what they did, but then they continue the abuse.

As for considering parole, the best and most objective standards would seem to be good behavior in prison, “aging out” of reckless youthful behavior, useful vocational training, and social contacts and job prospects outside the prison.

“I am not aware of any studies that show that insight and remorse are correlated to recidivism,” says Heidi Rummel, the director of the Post-Conviction Justice Project at the University of Southern California Gould School of Law. (Source: “How to Get Out of Prison,” The New York Times Magazine, Jan. 5, 2020.)
 

Mr Person

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They rely on lack of remorse as well.
 

AProudLefty

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A criminal’s display of remorse if often used by a judge in determining length of sentence or by a parole board in deciding if a felon will be released from prison. But are demonstrations of remorse a valid consideration for anything?

Does a display of remorse simply give an advantage to the sly, manipulative offender who can say what the judge wants to hear and a disadvantage to the stupid pigheaded criminal who can’t talk his way out of anything? Even a seemingly genuine display of remorse can be suspect. We know, for example, that many wife beaters will tell their spouse how sorry they are and promise never to repeat what they did, but then they continue the abuse.

As for considering parole, the best and most objective standards would seem to be good behavior in prison, “aging out” of reckless youthful behavior, useful vocational training, and social contacts and job prospects outside the prison.

“I am not aware of any studies that show that insight and remorse are correlated to recidivism,” says Heidi Rummel, the director of the Post-Conviction Justice Project at the University of Southern California Gould School of Law. (Source: “How to Get Out of Prison,” The New York Times Magazine, Jan. 5, 2020.)



Moral of the story: not giving a fock = freedom.
 

jamesrage

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A criminal’s display of remorse if often used by a judge in determining length of sentence or by a parole board in deciding if a felon will be released from prison. But are demonstrations of remorse a valid consideration for anything?

Does a display of remorse simply give an advantage to the sly, manipulative offender who can say what the judge wants to hear and a disadvantage to the stupid pigheaded criminal who can’t talk his way out of anything? Even a seemingly genuine display of remorse can be suspect. We know, for example, that many wife beaters will tell their spouse how sorry they are and promise never to repeat what they did, but then they continue the abuse.

As for considering parole, the best and most objective standards would seem to be good behavior in prison, “aging out” of reckless youthful behavior, useful vocational training, and social contacts and job prospects outside the prison.

“I am not aware of any studies that show that insight and remorse are correlated to recidivism,” says Heidi Rummel, the director of the Post-Conviction Justice Project at the University of Southern California Gould School of Law. (Source: “How to Get Out of Prison,” The New York Times Magazine, Jan. 5, 2020.)
I think that most of the time when a criminal is on the stand apologizing for their actions it a "I'm only sorry I because I got caught" apology. Because if that individual was never caught I seriously doubt he would have any "remorse".
 

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So, according to you, there would be no difference between:

A first time offender drunk driver who started going to AA, has taken classes on life management and, when questioned by the judge, explains what the crime was, why it was so dangerous, and expresses remorse

Vs.

A fifth time offender drunk driver who stands in front of the judge and says, “Yeah? So? I mean, I wasn’t that drunk.”
 

joko104

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Expressing remorse is of little value, but openly expressing lack of remorse is significant.

I don't think if a person pleads not guilty, but is found guilty, expecting remorse and calculating punishment is wrong. Being found guilty really doesn't mean the person is in fact guilty. Requiring the person to express remorse, though claims innocence, also forces the person to choice between hoping to gain by confessing and expressing remorse for a crime they didn't commit - or appealing continuing to claim innocence.

This also is a tactic used to try to prevent people exercising their right to appeal - being told failing to now confess and express remorse will add years to their sentence and make it likely parole will be denied.
 

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RobertU

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So, according to you, there would be no difference between:

A first time offender drunk driver who started going to AA, has taken classes on life management and, when questioned by the judge, explains what the crime was, why it was so dangerous, and expresses remorse

Vs.

A fifth time offender drunk driver who stands in front of the judge and says, “Yeah? So? I mean, I wasn’t that drunk.”

Yes, there is a difference between a first time offender and a fifth time offender and it has nothing to do with remorse.
 

Drowning Man

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Yes, there is a difference between a first time offender and a fifth time offender and it has nothing to do with remorse.

I think you missed their point. The only real question I have is if it was deliberate or not.
 

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In my opinion, remorse should be a moot point when it comes to sentencing. Judges are not seated to decide whether someone is remorseful or not. It is impossible for anyone to be able to prove someone's inner feelings. I like to think that most humans are remorseful for actions that hurt others but definitely not all of them Sentencing guidelines should be based on facts and not opinions. Laws themselves, criminal history and likeliness of threat to general society are a few considerations that should go into all judgements. Just because someone has a mindset or attitude that we do not agree with does not mean that they should be punished for that thought process. I think criminal history says a lot about true remorse, which in one way is definitely used to protect the general public, but only to the point of length of stay and possible rehabilitation for release.
 

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I think that most of the time when a criminal is on the stand apologizing for their actions it a "I'm only sorry I because I got caught" apology. Because if that individual was never caught I seriously doubt he would have any "remorse".

Unless the criminal perpetrator turned themselves in to the authorities after committing the crime, perhaps. I would certainly take their claims of remorsefulness more seriously under those circumstances.
 

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Here's sort of the reverse of the proposition: What is the theory of "punishment" you subscribe to? What is it supposed to achieve? Retribution, incapacitation, deterrence or rehabilitation? Something else? What's the point of "justice"? What makes a decision "just"? Does mercy play a part? All of this goes into whether "remorse" is a valid factor.

We judge people's motivations and sincerity all the time. You do it, I do it. We do it when we buy things, we do it when we talk to counselors or teachers. Juries do it, judges do it, parole boards do it in the criminal justice context. Sometimes we call it "credibility". Asking someone to ignore their "insights" is virtually impossible. You believe some people, you don't believe others. We are often wrong, but we can't eliminate it.

So, concern about whether remorse is genuine is legitimate, but it may or may not be relevant (or, as you posit, ultimately knowable), depending on what your intent is in punishment. It is relevant to recidivism, severity of punishment if "intent" is a factor, and may be a factor in other considerations. If the point of the punishment is to change behavior, well, remorse is very relevant. Someone who is remorseful is unlikely to "do it again". Only future behavior, though, can truly indicate how "genuine" it really was.
 

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The remorse fallacy is the most unfair to the inmates that were found guilty when they are actually innocent. How do you feel badly for something that you didn't do?
 

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In my opinion, remorse should be a moot point when it comes to sentencing. Judges are not seated to decide whether someone is remorseful or not. It is impossible for anyone to be able to prove someone's inner feelings. I like to think that most humans are remorseful for actions that hurt others but definitely not all of them Sentencing guidelines should be based on facts and not opinions. Laws themselves, criminal history and likeliness of threat to general society are a few considerations that should go into all judgements. Just because someone has a mindset or attitude that we do not agree with does not mean that they should be punished for that thought process. I think criminal history says a lot about true remorse, which in one way is definitely used to protect the general public, but only to the point of length of stay and possible rehabilitation for release.

Do you understand mens rea?
 

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Unless the criminal perpetrator turned themselves in to the authorities after committing the crime, perhaps. I would certainly take their claims of remorsefulness more seriously under those circumstances.

How do you view the purpose of prisons on a rehabilitative or punitive level?
 

Felis Leo

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How do you view the purpose of prisons on a rehabilitative or punitive level?

While for heinous remorseless criminals, my answer is definitely punishment, and for less violent offenders my answer is rehabilitation, my actual thought is this: Restraint and prevention.

Not deterrence mind you. Just keeping people who do not have the self-control or social conscience to refrain from committing crimes to remain in our streets and on our neighborhoods.
 

bomberfox

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While for heinous remorseless criminals, my answer is definitely punishment, and for less violent offenders my answer is rehabilitation, my actual thought is this: Restraint and prevention.

Sounds good to me.
 

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While for heinous remorseless criminals, my answer is definitely punishment, and for less violent offenders my answer is rehabilitation, my actual thought is this: Restraint and prevention.

Not deterrence mind you. Just keeping people who do not have the self-control or social conscience to refrain from committing crimes to remain in our streets and on our neighborhoods.

Great in theory, but how do you put that into practice? How is "social conscience" different than determining "remorse"? In either situation, you assume the ability to see into someone's motivation or consciousness of guilt, and to behave accordingly. I'm not saying that as a criticism, but genuinely trying to suss out your distinctions.
 

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They rely on lack of remorse as well.

And there is nothing special about a judge's ability to perceive the truth about people... their emotions... their honesty... etc. judges... just like many therapists... can be Clueless morons and make bad decisions based off their inability and lack of understanding
 

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I think that most of the time when a criminal is on the stand apologizing for their actions it a "I'm only sorry I because I got caught" apology. Because if that individual was never caught I seriously doubt he would have any "remorse".

I used to think on these same lines, but I've realized that sometimes people who do bad things don't really pause to think about it from the perspective of their victims. But, when confronted with how their actions have affected others, they do realize that what they did was evil.

Not saying this happens in every case of a display of remorse. But sometimes good people do bad things because they don't think about what they're doing.
 

jamesrage

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I used to think on these same lines, but I've realized that sometimes people who do bad things don't really pause to think about it from the perspective of their victims. But, when confronted with how their actions have affected others, they do realize that what they did was evil.

Not saying this happens in every case of a display of remorse. But sometimes good people do bad things because they don't think about what they're doing.

That is true. I am sure that some people having time to reflect do have genuine remorse for their actions. But a lot of times its just a ploy to get out of jail or if they are facing a judge its a I'm sorry because I got caught apology.
 

ashurbanipal

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That is true. I am sure that some people having time to reflect do have genuine remorse for their actions. But a lot of times its just a ploy to get out of jail or if they are facing a judge its a I'm sorry because I got caught apology.

Oh, sure--I agree. That's often what it is. Just not always. I like to think that people who are perceptive can tell the difference, and I'd also like to think it's usually appropriate to treat someone who is genuinely remorseful with some leniency. On the other hand, people who pull the "Oh, I'm so sorry" act because they got caught should receive double the sentence. I have more respect for criminals who at least own who they are than worms that try to weasel out after the fact.
 
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