The presence or absence of ‘signs of remorse’ is often understood to have consequences for judges’ sentencing decisions. However, these findings raise the questions, first, how ‘remorse’ is communicated and demonstrated by defendants within court settings, and second, whether remorse plays a uniform role across and between various offence and offender types. Drawing on ethnographic data gathered in a Dutch criminal court, we contextualize remorse to answer these questions. First, we demonstrate that the performance of remorse has to strike a fine balance between potentially competing legal and moral narrative demands. Second, we identify three different typified ‘whole-case narratives’, within which defendants’ performances of remorse assume differential levels of importance. In doing so, we seek to complicate binary portrayals of the role and consequences of remorse, arguing for a more holistic and narrative understanding of sentencing practices.

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Keywords Courtroom interaction, ethnography, judicial decision-making, narrative, remorse, sentencing
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Journal Social and Legal Studies
van Oorschot, I, Mascini, P, & Weenink, D. (2017). Remorse in Context(s): A Qualitative Exploration of the Negotiation of Remorse and Its Consequences. Social and Legal Studies, 26(3), 359–377. doi:10.1177/0964663916679039