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Remorse, Apology, and Mercy

Jeffrie G. Murphy

Arizona State University College of Law


Ohio State Journal of Criminal Law, Vol. 4, p. 423, 2007

It is commonly believed that legal mercy for those guilty of serious crimes is most appropriately bestowed upon those criminals who exhibit sincere remorse and repentance over what they have done - a remorse and repentance often represented by apologies to victims, survivors, and the community as a whole. As the public interest in the Karla Faye Tucker case demonstrated, many people find these displays of remorse particularly compelling if they are presented as a consequence of religious conversion. In contrast, the word "remorseless" is often used to describe those criminals who are viewed as the worst of the worst and thus as least deserving of legal mercy. This essay - a modification of some of the author's earlier work - explores the nature of remorse, its relation to religion, the role it plays in the assessment of moral character, and the role that such a character assessment might play in decisions to grant legal mercy - in particular, decisions of judges at the time of sentencing or decisions of executives with the power to grant clemency. The complex relationship that acts of apology bear to the kind of remorse that, at least in the minds of many, makes a criminal a legitimate candidate for legal mercy is also examined. The author, exploring both moral and epistemic issues, will express considerable skepticism toward relying on judgments about offender remorse at the time of sentencing, but less skepticism about relying on such judgments at the time of an executive decision to grant clemency.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 31

Keywords: Remorse, clemency, mercy

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Date posted: June 24, 2009  

Suggested Citation

Murphy, Jeffrie G., Remorse, Apology, and Mercy (2007). Ohio State Journal of Criminal Law, Vol. 4, p. 423, 2007. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1424709

Contact Information

Jeffrie G. Murphy (Contact Author)
Arizona State University College of Law ( email )
Box 877906
Tempe, AZ 85287-7906
United States
(480) 965-5856 (Phone)
(480) 965-2427 (Fax)
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