The Effects of Case Order on Judicial Decision Making

Awarded Scholars:
James J. Prescott, University of Michigan
Dean Karlan, Northwestern University
Adi Leibovitch, Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Project Date:
Jun 2018
Award Amount:
$50,000

Do the decisions a judge makes in a case depend on the decisions and outcomes in recent cases that the judge has decided? Studies suggest that on average, a legal case is evaluated as somewhat more serious when assessed after a case that is viewed as relatively mild, and as somewhat less serious when judged after a more egregious one. The comparison appears to alter not only how a judge morally evaluates the severity of wrongful conduct, but also seems to influence the decision over the appropriate size of a civil punitive damage award or the length of a criminal sentence.

Using administrative data from judges’ electronic dockets, economists James Prescott and Dean Karlan and legal scholar Adi Leibovitch will test the extent to which the composition of judges’ dockets affects several case outcomes, including decision-making behavior such as the types of evidence considered and the duration of certain decision-making processes. They will create a unique micro-level dataset on judicial decisions and behavior in criminal and civil infraction cases, and evaluate the impact of alternative case assignment mechanisms on the substantive decisions judges reach and their behavior during this process. 

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