Contrition in the Courtroom: Do Apologies Affect Adjudication?

57 Pages Posted: 18 Jul 2013 Last revised: 18 Oct 2013

Jeffrey J. Rachlinski

Cornell Law School

Chris Guthrie

Vanderbilt University - Law School

Andrew J. Wistrich

California Central District Court

Date Written: July 17, 2013

Abstract

Apologies usually help to repair social relationships and appease aggrieved parties. Previous research has demonstrated that in legal settings, apologies influence how litigants and juries evaluate both civil and criminal defendants. Judges, however, routinely encounter apologies offered for instrumental reasons, such as to reduce a civil damage award or fine, or to shorten a criminal sentence. Frequent exposure to insincere apologies might make judges suspicious of or impervious to apologies. In a series of experimental studies with judges as research participants, we find that in some criminal settings, apologies can induce judges to be more lenient, but overall, apologizing to a judge is often unhelpful and can even be harmful.

Keywords: Judges

Suggested Citation

Rachlinski , Jeffrey J. and Guthrie, Chris and Wistrich, Andrew J., Contrition in the Courtroom: Do Apologies Affect Adjudication? (July 17, 2013). Cornell Law Review, Vol. 98, No. 1189, 2013; Cornell Legal Studies Research Paper No. 13-90. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2295033 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2295033

Jeffrey John Rachlinski (Contact Author)

Cornell Law School ( email )

Myron Taylor Hall
Cornell University
Ithaca, NY 14853-4901
United States
607-255-5878 (Phone)
607-255-7193 (Fax)

Chris Guthrie

Vanderbilt University - Law School ( email )

131 21st Avenue South
Nashville, TN 37203-1181
United States
615-322-6823 (Phone)
615-322-6631 (Fax)

Andrew J. Wistrich

California Central District Court ( email )

Los Angeles, CA 90012
United States

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