Remorse Bias

58 Pages Posted: 4 Dec 2017 Last revised: 9 Jul 2018

See all articles by Eve Hanan

Eve Hanan

University of Nevada, Las Vegas, William S. Boyd School of Law

Date Written: November 29, 2017


Whether a defendant expresses remorse at criminal sentencing often has a direct bearing on the severity of the sentence. But how good are judges at accurately assessing genuine, meaningful remorse? Research demonstrates that judges hold contradictory and unfounded views about how sincere remorse should be expressed and, as a result, are likely to misjudge remorse. Legal and social science scholars have grappled with the challenge of accurately assessing remorse, but no one has analyzed whether implicit racial bias skews remorse assessments at criminal sentencing in predictable and systematically discriminatory ways. In an effort to unmask this mode of discrimination, this Article synthesizes two areas of scholarship not previously compared — (1) scholarship on the role of remorse in criminal sentencing and (2) social science research on implicit racial bias — to argue that unconscious cognitive assumptions about race and criminality causes judges to discredit African American displays of remorse and, as a consequence, sentence them to harsher punishments. At a time when racial disparity and implicit bias dominates national discussions of criminal sentencing reform, improving our understanding of where our criminal justice system is particularly susceptible to racial bias can help reformers mend these weaknesses in our system to ensure it works equally for everyone.

Keywords: sentencing, judges, bias, implicit, racism, incarceration, remorse, apology, discretion, criminal, judicial

JEL Classification: K14, K41

Suggested Citation

Hanan, Eve, Remorse Bias (November 29, 2017). 83 Missouri Law Review 301 (2018), UNLV William S. Boyd School of Law Legal Studies Research Paper, Available at SSRN:

Eve Hanan (Contact Author)

University of Nevada, Las Vegas, William S. Boyd School of Law ( email )

4505 South Maryland Parkway
Box 451003
Las Vegas, NV 89154
United States

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