A Judge’s Full Belly Is Good News for Criminals, Study Finds

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Is a well-fed judge the key to leniency for criminal defendants?

It appeared to help would-be parolees in a 10-month Israeli study of eight judges considering more than 1,100 applications for parole, Discover magazine reports. The study found that the judges were more likely to grant parole at the start of the day, and after breaks for a morning snack and lunch.

The odds of a prisoner winning parole started off at 65 percent, then plummeted over a few hours, and returned to 65 percent after the breaks, before plummeting again, the magazine reports. The decisions weren’t entirely arbitrary, however. Prisoners deemed likely to commit another crime, or who weren’t part of a rehabilitation program, were still less likely to win parole.

Study co-author Shai Danziger of Ben Gurion University told the magazine the results show the interplay of “choice overload” and repetitive decision-making. Studies of consumers, for example, show that after making several decisions shoppers start opting for the default offer. In parole board hearings, the default is denial of parole.

Discover discussed the findings with Vanderbilt law professor Nita Farahany. “To me, this study underscores that decision-making is complex and does not occur in a theoretical or formalistic vacuum,” Farahany said. She cites studies that found other professionals, such as medical residents and air force pilots, make more mistakes when they work for long periods without rest.

“Improvements in the justice system may likewise require that society acknowledge the effects of biological contributions to legal decision-making,” she said.

Hat Tip: Austin Criminal Defense Lawyer.

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