Decision fatigue is a problem all of us have. Making decisions – particularly complex decisions that require reflection, consideration, and nuanced thinking – is taxing on the brain. Consequently, the more one is tired, the more likely one is to make snap decisions.
That’s not surprising.
Nor should it be surprising that decision fatigue can affect how judges judge and sentence. But what is the effect? Do judges become more lenient, or more harsh?
An interesting recent study of more than 1,000 cases before an Israeli parole board reveals that judges’ leniency is apparently directly linked to glucose. Two scholars discussed judges’ decisions with respect to granting parole. (While North Carolina has for the most part sharply curtailed the use of parole, many criminal justice systems use parole as a way of letting people out of custody and into some kind of post-supervision release as a reward for good behavior while in custody.)
The granting of parole is a show of leniency. The scholars examined the decisions these parole cases to determine how closely the decision to parole – the lenient decision – was linked to time of day.
According to the New York Times, the scholars found that:
The benefits of glucose were unmistakable in the study of the Israeli parole board. In midmorning, usually a little before 10:30, the parole board would take a break, and the judges would be served a sandwich and a piece of fruit. The prisoners who appeared just before the break had only about a 20 percent chance of getting parole, but the ones appearing right after had around a 65 percent chance.
That’s a remarkable three times greater chance of being granted parole based on whether the judge had recently had something to eat.
It’s something to consider for defense lawyers. While some defense attorneys may wait until the end of a court session to resolve a case, it may make sense to resolve the case earlier in the session, shortly after the judge has had something to eat, while the judge is more energetic, and while the judge is may be more lenient.