It is a given that legal formalism holds that Judges apply legal reasons to the facts of a case in a rational, mechanical, and deliberative manner, isn’t it? Well, an article in an April issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) seems to indicate that Judges may be human like the rest of us.
Over 1,000 parole decisions made by Judges in Israel were studied. The decisions were broken down into three distinct “decision sessions”, from the early morning session to the midmorning snack break, from the snack break to lunch and then after lunch until the end of the court day. For each decision, a judge could either accept or deny a request for parole.
The authors found 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. The researchers suggested this was due to “mental fatigue.” The authors postulate that “accepting” a request for parole is a more difficult mental decision and requires extra work in rendering a decision whereas “denying” a request is relatively easy. Even when controlling for such variables as: severity of crime, actual time spent incarcerated, number of prior arrests and demographics, the researchers found the trend to persist. Moreover, the trend persisted among each of the judges suggested.
Apparently, if the early bird gets the worm, then the early petitioner after a break gets the breaks.