Louisiana juvenile court judges who went to LSU gave longer sentences to black defendants after LSU football unexpectedly lost. 

 
Employing the universe of juvenile court decisions in a U.S. 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 investigate the behavior of judges, the conduct of whom should, by law, be free of person-specific reference points. We find that unexpected losses increase disposition (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 effect. Sentencing decisions following an important game are impacted, and the effect of these emotional shocks are asymmetrically borne by black defendants. We present evidence that the results are not influenced by defendant or attorney behavior. Importantly, the results are driven by judges who have received their bachelor’s degrees from the university with which the football team is affiliated. A placebo test using the games of other prominent football teams, and a number of auxiliary analyses demonstrate the robustness of the findings. These results provide evidence of expectation-based reference point behavior/loss aversion among a uniformly highly-educated group of individuals (judges), with decisions involving high stakes (sentence lengths). They also point to the existence of a subtle and previously-unnoticed capricious application of sentencing. [link]

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