Defendants Asking for Forgiveness: Love or Self-Interest and How Can One Tell?

Each day, I examine the news stories on-line, looking for forgiveness themes. Over the past few months I have been surprised by the number of stories in which a defendant, not yet judged or sentenced, in a court of law asks a victim or the victim’s family members to forgive him.

It has me wondering. To what extent is the request for forgiveness coming from the heart or from a calculating head? And, how can one tell the difference? A psychiatrist, Dr. Hunter, in an early journal article (the late 1970’s) on the psychology of forgiveness said that insincere forgiving has a certain smug-like quality to it. Perhaps the request for forgiveness, when insincere, has a similar quality to it.

But, again, how can one discern that in the context of a courtroom with all of its formality? Perhaps one way to tell is to ask those receiving the request. Do they see sincerity or do they see this as a way to try softening judge or jury for a lighter sentence? At the same time, victims or a victim’s family members, when blinded by anger, may not be able to accurately judge a sincere request for forgiveness, especially when feeling particularly unforgiving.

Should judges and juries take sincere requests to be forgiven seriously, so that the sentence is altered because of this?

It is all quite new to me and so I am asking rather than explaining.

R.E.

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