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A Letter of Apology After a Guilty Verdict

Jamison KoehlerCriminal Procedure


After finding my client guilty of simple assault, the judge orders my client to write a letter of apology to the complaining witness.

I can understand an apology after a guilty plea.  After all, acknowledgment of remorse could be an important part of the rehabilitation process.  What I don’t understand is the need for an apology after the defendant has challenged the charges at trial and lost.

A number of years ago in Philadelphia, I had a case that was right out of an afterschool special.  The complaining witness – an 85-year-old woman – had hired my client to wash her car.  At some point, my client went into the woman’s house to use the bathroom.  And at some point the woman discovered that cash was missing from the dining room table of her house.

I met with the client before trial to discuss trial strategy.  He said there was no way he was going to make the old woman testify.  He wanted to plead guilty but only if he could be given the opportunity to apologize to her for betraying her trust.

The prosecutor was surprised by this unusual condition but readily agreed.  The woman was brought up to the bar of the court at the time of the guilty plea, and my client apologized.

The woman looked at him.  “Young man,” she said, though my client was well into his fifties.  “You were forgiven at the very moment you took that money.  And, by the way, you did a very good job washing my car.”

It is, however, completely different after a lost trial. In that case, a defendant who has just been found guilty of a charge she has contested may not be feeling very charitable.  The order to write a letter of apology adds insult to injury.

My client will write a letter of apology, I tell the judge after consulting with my client.  But I cannot guarantee the apology will be a sincere one.

The judge is annoyed by this.  Having determined in her own mind that the defendant is guilty after considering all the evidence, the verdict for her has become the objective truth. Fine, she says. I’ll just order more community service instead.