Date of Award

January 2013

Document Type

Open Access Thesis

Degree Name

Medical Doctor (MD)



First Advisor

Howard V. Zonana

Subject Area(s)

Mental health, Law, Medical ethics


The role of remorse in judicial decisions in the criminal justice system has been addressed in scholarship and remains controversial. The purpose of this qualitative research was to examine the views of seated criminal judges about remorse, its assessment, and its relevance in their decision-making. After exemption by the IRB, 23 judges were interviewed using an open-ended format. Transcriptions of these audio-recorded sessions were analyzed phenomenologically by members of the research team. The results showed that judges varied widely in their views about the assessment of remorse and its relevance in judicial decision-making. Judges generally agreed that remorse was a valid legal construct. However, they disagreed about which types of crimes and at which stage of criminal proceedings remorse was most relevant. They further disagreed about the indicators of remorse; behaviors that suggested remorsefulness to some judges suggested remorselessness to others. Finally, judges differed in their opinions concerning the impact of mental illness on remorse and often oversimplified psychiatric disorders. These findings suggest a role for forensic psychiatrists as educators and consultants for the courts on the issue of remorse. Greater involvement on the part of psychiatrists could promote justice, particularly in forensic populations.


This is an Open Access Thesis.

Open Access

This Article is Open Access