In March, 2021, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo issued an apology for his actions toward three women who accused him of sexual harassment. The apology fell flat with many critics, and time will tell if the women accept it or file a lawsuit. Psychological research suggests that Cuomo’s apology could be ineffective because of the elements it omitted. The purpose of this article is to present the scientific research about apologies in order to assist attorneys in constructing effective apologies that will benefit victims and wrongdoers. Despite the potential benefits of apologies, wrongdoers often avoid giving apologies in the legal system because they could be perceived by some (e.g., victims, jurors) to be an admission of guilt. However, victims often desire apologies to enhance their psychological well-being and to ensure similar incidents will not reoccur. A wrongdoer benefits from apologizing by improving their psychological well-being as well; in addition, they could receive a more lenient punishment and be perceived more positively by the victim or jury. To facilitate potential positive outcomes and reduce wrongdoers’ fear of apologizing, apology laws have been enacted in the United States and many other countries. Not all apologies are equally effective, however; various elements could affect their effectiveness. Elements of the apology itself include: delivery, timing, and sincerity. The elements related to the wrongdoer include: acknowledging responsibility, avoiding future wrongdoing, displaying remorse, and empathy, and explaining the offense. Researchers have investigated these elements using various methods and in different legal contexts. Much of the research focuses on civil trials, but these elements are useful in both civil and criminal trials. While using a combination of these elements can successfully mitigate a wrongdoer’s legal outcome (e.g., damage award), it is not guaranteed. The purposes of this article are to review the literature on remorse and apologies in the courtroom, explore the elements of an effective apology, and analyze the use of apologies in some notable legal cases, including Michigan Governor Rick Snyder, whose apology might affect his 2021 case that arose from his role in the Flint water crisis. This will culminate in a discussion of how attorneys and consultants can help their clients craft an effective apology.
M. K. Cunius & Monica Miller,
The Psychology of Apologies in the Legal System: Will Apologies Save Governors Snyder and Cuomo?,
Barry L. Rev.
Available at: https://lawpublications.barry.edu/barrylrev/vol26/iss2/1