Remorseful or Resigned: Criminal Justice Legitimacy and the Appearance of ‘Docile’ Defendants

Proceedings of The 5th International Academic Conference on Research in Social Sciences

Year: 2022



Remorseful or Resigned: Criminal Justice Legitimacy and the Appearance of ‘Docile’ Defendants

Thanyanuch Tantikul



In monopolising penal violence, the criminal justice system requires public acceptance, preferably not via coercive force but rather via the recognition of legitimacy that yields wilful compliance. Nevertheless, under the pressures for efficiency and mass case processing, the modern-day criminal justice system increasingly relies on convenient indicators that promote the superficial image of legitimacy. What follows is the undesirable blinding of the system to its marginalisation of defendants. Still, the authorities’ indifference can remain strong as long as defendants appear willingly compliant. Being directly affected by the state’s penal power, defendants’ voluntary expression of repentance and obedience is arguably a strong proxy for the system’s fairness. Drawing conclusion from fieldwork data in Thailand, this paper argues that such visible docility is rather shaped by systemic pressures that gear defendants towards self-blaming and fatalism. Such gearing mechanisms are neither purposeful nor coercive; yet, under their influences, free choice is also elusive. Accordingly, defendants’ appearance of docility is defensibly more of the system’s inducement than utterly voluntary. Although unconsciously produced, defendants’ complicity in their own mistreatment powerfully endorses the proceeding’s claimed legitimacy, albeit to the erosion of the due process principle.

keywords: compliance, docility, legal consciousness, self-blaming, symbolic violence.