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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2011 Apr 26;108(17):6889-92. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1018033108. Epub 2011 Apr 11.

Extraneous factors in judicial decisions.

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  • 1Department of Management, Ben Gurion University of the Negev, Beer Sheva 84105, Israel.

Abstract

Are judicial rulings based solely 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 the decisions of judges and that psychological, political, and social factors influence judicial 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 deliberations of the day into three distinct "decision sessions." We find that the percentage of favorable rulings drops gradually from ≈ 65% to nearly zero within each decision session and returns abruptly to ≈ 65% after a break. Our findings suggest that judicial rulings can be swayed by extraneous variables that should have no bearing on legal decisions.

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PMID:
21482790
[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
PMCID:
PMC3084045
Free PMC Article

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