Some judges in Louisiana are taking ‘arbitrary and capricious’ to a whole new level, and it has nothing to do with interpretation of law. In a horrendous abuse of power, judges were doling out harsher punishments based on how their football team performed.
A study published in the National Bureau of Economic Research found that juvenile court judges dole out harsher sentences after the Louisiana State University (LSU) football team experienced an upset loss.
In a report titled “Emotional Judges and Unlucky Juveniles,” two economics professors at LSU examined data beginning in 1996, finding a significant and disturbing trend among judges who graduated from Louisiana’s most popular football university.
“Researchers Ozkan Eren and Naci Mocan looked at the Las Vegas point spreads on the Tigers’ football games. When LSU lost after the oddsmakers favored the team to win, Eren and Mocan examined sentences doled out to juvenile offenders the following week. The length of the sentences increased by an average of 35 days, or about 7%. Most of the increased sentences came from judges who attended Louisiana State as undergraduates; the average increase handed down in their courts was 74 days. The difference was even greater, 86 days, if LSU was ranked in the top 10 at the time of its loss.”
“We calculate that each upset loss of the LSU football team generates excess punishments of juvenile defenders in Louisiana by a total of more than 1,332 days, including time in custody and probation,” the study authors wrote. “Importantly, 159 extra days of jail time has been assigned to juveniles convicted of a felony due to an upset loss in a football game.”
This shocking level of personal bias took the heaviest toll on African-Americans, whose sentences were an average of 46 days longer after and upset LSU loss, compared to eight days for white defendants.
LSU football fans have a reputation for being extremely emotional about their team, but it’s hard to believe that judges, who are supposed to be objective, would let this rabid nature infect their duties. It’s one more sign that our justice system is often anything but just.
Football seems to have a detrimental effect on rationality, as witnessed by the controversy over Colin Kaepernick’s decision not to stand for the national anthem. Instead of wanting to know more about the issue that this star player feels so strongly about, 49ers fans burned his jersey and people across the country accused him of ‘disrespecting the troops’ and ‘hating America.’
When this irrationality affects the way judges hand out sentencing, especially on juveniles, something is seriously wrong.
“These results provide evidence for the impact of emotions in one domain on a behavior in a completely unrelated domain among a uniformly highly educated group of individuals (judges), with decisions involving high stakes (sentence lengths),” the study authors wrote. “They also point to the existence of a subtle and previously unnoticed capricious application of sentencing.”
Nothing highlights the egregious nature of state power quite like college sports being a factor in ruining someone’s life. As John Dalberg-Acton famously stated,