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Extraneous Factors in Judicial Decisions

Associate Professor Shai Danziger, Tel-Aviv University

14th Sep 2012  03:00 pm - Room 214/215, H69 - Economics and Business Building

Are judicial rulings based only on laws and facts? Legal formalism holds that judges apply legal reasons to the facts of a case in a rational, mechanical and deliberative manner. In contrast, legal realists argue that the rational application of legal reasons does not sufficiently explain judges' decisions and that psychological, political, and social factors influence judges' rulings. We test the common caricature of realism that justice is "what the judge ate for breakfast" in sequential parole decisions made by experienced judges. We record the judges' two daily food breaks, which result in segmenting the day's deliberations into three distinct "decision sessions." We find that the percentage of favorable rulings drops gradually from approximately 65% to nearly zero within each decision session and returns abruptly to approximately 65% following a break. Our findings suggest that judicial rulings can be swayed by extraneous variables that should not influence legal decisions.