Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Nick Smith's "Justice through Apologies"

Nick Smith is a Professor of Philosophy at the University of New Hampshire. Formerly a litigator and a clerk for the US Court of Appeals, he specializes in the philosophy of law, politics and society. Smith is the author of I Was Wrong: The Meanings of Apologies. He regularly appears in the media, including The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Chronicle of Higher Education, The Guardian UK, Fortune, NPR, BBC, CBC, CNN, and others.

Smith applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, Justice through Apologies: Remorse, Reform, and Punishment, and reported the following:
On page 99 I consider an example to test my claim that categorically apologetic criminal offenders deserve reductions in punishment. I return on this page to the case of William Beebe, who drugged and raped eighteen-year-old Liz Seccuro at a University of Virginia Phi Kappa Psi party in 1984. Seccuro awoke the next day wrapped in a bloody sheet on the couch of the deserted fraternity house. She confirmed Beebe's identity by the mail on his dresser. Still bloodied and bruised, Seccuro reported the attack. Campus authorities and Charlottesville police treated her claim dismissively and obstructed her access to a proper investigation. Beebe claimed she had consented. Feeling stonewalled and hoping to move forward with the rest of her education and life, Seccuro stopped pursuing legal recourse.

Twenty-one years later, Seccuro pulled out of her driveway en route to a vacation with her spouse and young child. She stopped at the mailbox and found the following letter:
Dear Elizabeth:

In October 1984 I harmed you. I can scarcely begin to understand the degree to which, in your eyes, my behavior has affected you in its wake. Still, I stand prepared to hear from you about just how, and in what ways you've been affected; and to begin to set right the wrong I've done, in any way you see fit.

Most sincerely yours,

Will Beebe
In a subsequent exchange of emails where Beebe explained that he was undergoing a twelve step addiction recovery program, he confessed to a decades old crime for which he was not under investigation and that carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. "I want to make clear that I'm not intentionally minimizing the fact of having raped you," he wrote, "I did." Seccuro took this opportunity in 2005 to contact Charlottesville police. This time they properly investigated her claim. She pressed charges against Beebe.

On page 99 I consider how Beebe should be punished in light of his apology and confession. Why do we punish offenders and exactly how does remorse—and remorselessness—impact our view about who deserves what sorts of punishment? How should we punish Beebe? How much time did he ultimately serve? Read Justice through Apologies to find out.
Learn more about Justice through Apologies at the Cambridge University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: Nick Smith's I Was Wrong: The Meanings of Apologies.

--Marshal Zeringue