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Judges Give Harsher Sentences When Their Team Loses

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When a judge's football team suffers an unexpected loss, they are more likely to dish out longer sentences, a study suggests.

Judges who attended Louisiana State University handed out sentences, on average, two months longer when LSU lost after ranking in the top 10, reports The Atlantic. If the team was ranked lower, but still expected to win, sentences were a little more than a month longer than usual.

A study of 9,346 juvenile cases heard by 207 judges found that decisions a judge makes in court are related to his or her emotional state, reports SB Nation. Cases included in the study were all first-time, single statute offenders -- excluding first and second-degree murder and rape, which carry mandatory sentences in Louisiana, according to The Atlantic. The study compared sentences made the week after an unexpected LSU loss with those made after unexpected wins and expected losses. 

"It may come as a surprise," Naci Mocan, the study's co-author, told SB Nation. "It all comes down to the deep connection of the state and the institution and the football team. Here [in Louisiana], they are indoctrinated in this culture of football.”

"Frankly, in the beginning, we thought we wouldn’t find anything and that it was probably a waste of time," Mocan told The Atlantic. "But, in fact, we found robust and significant relationships.”

The "emotional shocks" of unexpected losses were disproportionately felt by black defendants, who saw significant increases in sentence length compared to the statistically insignificant sentence increases on white defendants.

This, the study reads, "hints at a negative predisposition towards black defendants ... There are no race-related differences in the disposition length in the absence of judges' emotional stress," which suggests "a subtle, and previously-unnoticed, bias in sentencing."

Retired New Orleans judge Calvin Johnson referred to the findings as an indictment on his profession.

"It speaks to how narrowly sculpted some people are who wear the black dress," Johnson said.

This narrowness isn't confined to judges or football games; a 2001 study from the University of Michigan found "...sunshine is highly significantly correlated with daily stock returns."  Additionally, a study in the Journal of Finance found links between stock markets and outcomes in soccer, cricket, rugby and basketball games.

Johnson told SB Nation that even though judges "aren't immune" to narrowness. 

"When you put on the black dress, you should be able to set aside all of it, especially LSU just losing a football game," he said. "It should be on balance and objectivity, so that the person in front of us benefits [from] what we do, and society does too."

Sources: The Atlantic, SB Nation, The National Bureau of Economic ResearchJournal of Finance, University of Michigan (PDF) / Photo Credit: For the Win/USA Today

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