Lawyers and Forgiveness

The lawyer, Thurman W. Arnold III, is in the business of resolving conflict. He is well aware of the mayhem that conflict causes as he states on this blog: “We live in what seems to be an increasingly mad and insane world. The conflict cycles that resentment spawns are evident, in the extreme, by the headlines of each day’s newspaper.”

What I admire about him is this: In the context of divorce, he would prefer that couples resolve their differences through forgiveness than to separate through divorce. If you think about it, he is losing money by doing that. After all, if all couples reconciled, he would never have any lawyer’s business. If we follow the logic of it, he would be out of a job. And yet, this does not concern him. He would prefer that the truth of marriage be played out in the hearts and minds of the married than that resentments be played out in the courts.

On the website, Laywers.com, there is a fascinating essay defending the use of forgiveness in both civil and criminal issues. In civil matters, private parties are in disagreement. The website poses and answers an important question: “Can you forgive? Of course. Just because you suffered some type of injury or damage doesn’t mean you have to file a lawsuit. In fact, sometimes it may not be a good idea to file one.”

But what about criminal matters, where a love-one was murdered, for example? Does forgiveness have a place here? The writer at Lawyers.com sees a place for forgiveness even here: “For instance, prosecutors can choose whether or not to file criminal charges against someone. They’re not required to bring everyone accused of a crime to trial. This is called prosecutorial discretion. For example, a wife who killed her physically abusive husband technically may have committed manslaughter, but the circumstances of the case may make a prosecutor choose not to charge her with the crime.”

Our own website here shows many instances in which a victim of a crime forgives. See, for example, this story in which a woman forgives a man who killed her mother. In forgiving, she has an opportunity to reduce toxic anger, that may remain regardless of a legal decision because no legal decision is likely to eliminate the inner pain to the degree that forgiveness does.

Our hats are off to these highly principled lawyers, who put the principles of forgiveness and healing above their own self-interests.

R.E.

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.