Emotional Judges and Unlucky Juveniles
- American Economic Journal: Applied Economics (Forthcoming)
Employing the universe of juvenile court decisions in a US state between 1996 and 2012, we analyze the
effects of emotional shocks associated with unexpected outcomes of football games played by a prominent
college team in the state. We find that unexpected losses increase sentence lengths assigned by judges
during the week following the game. Unexpected wins, or losses that were expected to be close contests ex ante have no impact. The effects of these emotional shocks are asymmetrically borne by black defendants.
The impact of upset losses on sentence lengths is larger for defendants if their cases are handled by
judges who received their bachelor's degrees from the university with which the football team is affiliated.
Different falsification tests and a number of auxiliary analyses demonstrate the robustness of the findings.
These results provide evidence for the impact of emotions in one domain on decisions in a completely
unrelated domain among a uniformly highly educated group of individuals (judges) who make decisions
after deliberation that involve high stakes (sentence lengths). They also point to the existence of a subtle
and previously-unnoticed capricious application of sentencing.
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