I’ve seen countless defendants in 33 years as lawyer and judge.
Most people charged with crime will plead guilty to something and will not go to trial. If allowed, they will stand quietly in court and plead guilty without admitting anything. Particularly in sex offenses or domestic violence, they will minimize their own behavior and blame the victim.
All of us make mistakes in life, especially when under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Sometimes, it is serious enough to break the law and to harm others. It is how the person responds to their wrongdoing that is the real measure of character. It says a great deal when people take responsibility for their actions, learn from their mistakes and change their behavior.
Some defendants immediately accept responsibility; they are honest and contrite about their behavior and are ready to change. This is relatively rare.
Others will respond to the expectations put on them by the court system. Many defendants are experts at manipulating, denying, minimizing and blaming others. This certainly applies to domestic-violence defendants but also to alcoholics, substance abusers and sex offenders. They’ve all been living dual lives, keeping secrets and avoiding responsibility.
Whether the defendants are charged with a sex offense, domestic violence, driving while intoxicated or another crime, many will avoid facing themselves and what they have done for as long as they are allowed to do so. That is human nature.
Accountability can start in court. A defendant who does not admit the facts of what he did is not likely to be a positive participant in a batterer’s, sex-offender or substance-abuse program.
Not every defendant will change, but the possibility of doing so is maximized by requiring admissions. A good time to break through the denial and minimization is in the courtroom at the guilty plea.