About | HeinOnline Law Journal Library | HeinOnline Law Journal Library | HeinOnline

4 Ohio St. J. Crim. L. 423 (2006-2007)
Remorse, Apology, and Mercy

handle is hein.journals/osjcl4 and id is 429 raw text is: Remorse, Apology, and Mercy

Jeffrie G. Murphy*
It is commonly believed that legal mercy for those guilty ofserious 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 ofjudges 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.
[One] night later merciless Grendel
struck again with more gruesome murders.
Malignant by nature, he never showed remorse.
Seamus Heaney translation
Regents' Professor of Law, Philosophy, and Religious Studies at Arizona State University. I
thank Stephanos Bibas, Richard Dagger, Antony Duff, Stephen Garvey, Alan Michaels, Herbert Morris,
Mary Sigler, Eleonore Stump, Margaret Walker, James Weinstein, and students in my current
jurisprudence seminar for their comments on an earlier draft of this essay. I am particularly grateful to
my colleague Michael White, whose comments forced me to think more carefully about my use of J. L.
Austin's theory of speech acts, and to my wife Ellen Canacakos for the insights she has provided from
her practice as a psychotherapist.


What Is HeinOnline?

HeinOnline is a subscription-based resource containing thousands of academic and legal journals from inception; complete coverage of government documents such as U.S. Statutes at Large, U.S. Code, Federal Register, Code of Federal Regulations, U.S. Reports, and much more. Documents are image-based, fully searchable PDFs with the authority of print combined with the accessibility of a user-friendly and powerful database. For more information, request a quote or trial for your organization below.

Short-term subscription options include 24 hours, 48 hours, or 1 week to HeinOnline.

Contact us for annual subscription options:

Already a HeinOnline Subscriber?

profiles profiles most