Lori Loughlin wants to clear her name. She hopes to convince a jury she’s innocent of the three charges against her in the college admissions cheating scandal that are collectively punishable by up to 45 years in prison.
The odds are against her.
Only two percent of federal criminal defendants ever go to trial. Ninety percent make a plea deal with prosecutors, and eight percent have their cases dismissed before trial. Of the two percent who go to trial, fewer than one percent of them win an acquittal. In real numbers, that meant in 2018 that only 320 of 79,704 total federal defendants went to trial and won an acquittal, according to the Pew Research Center.
But let’s assume Lori Loughlin goes to trial and beats the odds. Let’s assume the jury acquits her on all counts. Then what?
For her to work again in the entertainment industry, she’ll first need public forgiveness. And here’s the problem. The public isn’t likely to forgive Lori Loughlin, even if the jury acquits her.
Forgiveness — sometimes called “restorative justice”– is a three-step process. By going to trial, Loughlin is likely cutting herself off from that three-step process and closing the door on a return to a “normal” life.
Here’s why. (I’m relying on a brilliant chapter in the Handbook of Forgiveness published in 2004 and written by Marilyn P. Armour and Mark S. Umbreit.)
Step One: The Apology. Crime victims want apologies. “Apology-making stimulates emotional dissonance and humility which allows victims to recognize their own transgressions and respond on the basis on commonalities rather than differences.” But defendants who plead not guilty can’t apologize before their trial. And after the trial, whether convicted or acquitted, how can they apologize for a crime they swore they didn’t commit?
Step Two: Showing Remorse. Crime victims are “morally injured,” the Handbook of Forgiveness says. What restores the victims to full moral health is sincere repentance by the wrongdoer. “Sincere repentance, however, rests on feelings of shame for what one has done through inducing and activating conscience, a humbling of will, and the desire to undo the wrongdoing.” Remorse (and the shame that goes with it) actually creates a bond between victim and offender. But defendants who fight to “clear their names” aren’t able to show remorse for crimes they say they didn’t commit.
Step Three: Receiving Forgiveness. After a wrongdoer apologizes and shows true remorse, crime victims feel empathy for them. Empathy is the emotional ingredient that must precede forgiveness, according to the Handbook of Forgiveness. “Empathy reduces the injustice gap by helping victims to see themselves as less innocent and their offenders as less evil.”
In the college admissions cheating scandal, one defendant who apparently understood the three-step process to restorative justice was Felicity Huffman. Unlike Loughlin, Huffman quickly made a plea deal with prosecutors. She admitted paying $15,000 to improve her daughter’s SAT scores. The judge sentenced her to 14 days in prison.
After she was sentenced, Huffman apologized, showed true remorse, and sought forgiveness. She said in a statement:
I accept the court’s decision today without reservation. I have always been prepared to accept whatever punishment Judge Talwani imposed. I broke the law. I have admitted that and I pleaded guilty to this crime. There are no excuses or justifications for my actions. Period.
I would like to apologize again to my daughter, my husband, my family and the educational community for my actions. And I especially want to apologize to the students who work hard every day to get into college, and to their parents who make tremendous sacrifices supporting their children.
I have learned a lot over the last six months about my flaws as a person. My goal now is to serve the sentence that the court has given me. I look forward to doing my community service hours and making a positive impact on my community. I also plan to continue making contributions wherever I can well after those service hours are completed.
I can promise you that in the months and years to come that I will try and live a more honest life, serve as a better role model for my daughters and family and continue to contribute my time and energies wherever I am needed.
My hope now is that my family, my friends and my community will forgive me for my actions.
Everyone felt like a victim of the college admissions cheating scandal. But we’ll forgive Felicity Huffman. Hey, she knows she’s flawed. We’re flawed too. She loves her daughter like we love our kids, and yet she knows that’s no excuse. She feels terrible shame about what she did, just like we would. Of course we’ll forgive her.
Lori Loughlin, though, says she’s innocent. She wants to clear her name in court. That’s her right, of course. And she’s entitled to the presumption of innocence. Maybe she’ll beat the odds and win an acquittal. Maybe she’ll be convicted. But either way, she won’t have begun the three-step process toward restorative justice.
No apology, no remorse. Therefore no forgiveness. That’s the future Lori Loughlin has apparently chosen.