And my judge must have had a steaming pile of crap for breakfast.
But I digress, recent studies have delved into the idea of whether a judge’s decision really is determined more by what he at last, or more accurately when he ate last.
Surprise, surprise, it is.
The entire founding notion of the legal realism movement is entirely correct.
Suck it current standing notions of law as God above all!
The graph above is…. the work of Shai Danziger from Ben Gurion University of the Negev, and summarises the results of 1,112 parole board hearings in Israeli prisons, over a ten month period. The vertical axis is the proportion of cases where the judges granted parole. The horizontal axis shows the order in which the cases were heard during the day. And the dotted lines, they represent the points where the judges went away for a morning snack and their lunch break.
Good thing I’m not a criminal. Yet.
Surely there must be some other factor that contributes to this rather than just when they ate, maybe the age or gender, or maybe the severity of the crime?
There are several other ways of explaining this striking pattern but Danziger ruled all of them out. It wasn’t the case that a few individuals skewed the data, for the pattern was consistent across all the judges. The results weren’t due to discrimination, for the judges treated the prisoners equally regardless of their gender, ethnicity or the severity of their crime.
Danziger considered that the judges might have an unconscious “quota” of favourable decisions. After they’ve doled out some positive verdicts, they are compelled to dish out some negative ones for balance. But that wasn’t the case – the likelihood that the judges would grant parole didn’t depend on the proportion of favourable rulings beforehand.
It’s not possible that someone ordered the cases in a special way. The judges know nothing about upcoming cases ahead of time, so they can’t decide to take a break in the knowledge that an easy positive case is coming up. They also have control over when they set their breaks, so prison staff cannot predictably schedule the hearings in order of ease. And Danziger showed that the judges weren’t any more likely to take a break after particularly difficult cases or severe crimes.
The only remaining explanation is one that legal realists have been pushing for years – that judges, even experienced ones, are vulnerable to the same psychological biases as everyone else. They can deliver different rulings in similar cases, under the influence of something as trivial as a food break. Their training, their experience, and the weighty nature of their decisions do not insulate them from the sort of problems that plague our everyday mental abilities (and indeed, this isn’t the first study to demonstrate this).