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Study: College Football Upsets Affect Judges' Sentencing

September 7, 2016
 

Judges whose college football teams lose in an upset fashion frequently let their emotions over the loss affect sentencing decisions, according to a new working paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research.

To reach their conclusion, Naci Mocan and Ozkan Eren, both economics professors at Louisiana State University, examined every defendant case file from 1996 to 2012 for juveniles in the state of Louisiana. Each file contained information about the defendant, his or her offense, and sentence length. Most of the files also listed where the judges in the cases went to college and law school. The researchers then compared this information to LSU football game records.

Mocan and Eren found that in the week following LSU's football team losing a game it was expected to win, judges with bachelor's degrees from LSU doled out harsher sentences, especially to black juveniles. In some cases, a surprise LSU loss resulted in a sentence that was as much as 74 days longer than cases following an LSU win or cases decided by judges who graduated from other institutions. In total, the researchers said, juveniles spent an extra 1,332 days in custody or on probation because a judge may have been in "emotional shock" over an upset.

"These results provide evidence for the impact of emotions in one domain on a behavior in a completely unrelated domain among a uniformly highly educated group of individuals (judges), with decisions involving high stakes (sentence lengths)," Mocan and Eren wrote. "They also point to the existence of a subtle and previously unnoticed capricious application of sentencing."

 
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