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Predicting sentencing for low-level crimes: comparing models of human judgment


von Helversen, Bettina; Rieskamp, Jörg (2009). Predicting sentencing for low-level crimes: comparing models of human judgment. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, 15(4):375-395.

Abstract

Laws and guidelines regulating legal decision making are often imposed without taking the cognitive processes of the legal decision maker into account. In the case of sentencing, this raises the question of whether the sentencing decisions of prosecutors and judges are consistent with legal policy. Especially in handling low-level crimes, legal personnel suffer from high case loads and time pressure, which can make it difficult to comply with the often complex rulings of the law. To understand the cognitive processes underlying sentencing decisions, an analysis of trial records in cases of larceny, fraud, and forgery was conducted. Applying a Bayesian approach, five models of human judgment were tested against each other to predict the sentencing recommendations of the prosecution and to identify the crucial factors influencing sentencing decisions. The factors influencing sentencing were broadly consistent with the penal code. However, the prosecutors considered only a limited number of factors and neglected factors that were legally relevant and rated as highly important. Furthermore, testing the various cognitive judgment models against each other revealed that the sentencing process was apparently not consistent with the judgment policy recommended by the legal literature. Instead, the results show that prosecutors' sentencing recommendations were best described by the mapping model, a heuristic model of quantitative estimation. According to this model, sentencing recommendations rely on a categorization of cases based on the cases' characteristics.

Abstract

Laws and guidelines regulating legal decision making are often imposed without taking the cognitive processes of the legal decision maker into account. In the case of sentencing, this raises the question of whether the sentencing decisions of prosecutors and judges are consistent with legal policy. Especially in handling low-level crimes, legal personnel suffer from high case loads and time pressure, which can make it difficult to comply with the often complex rulings of the law. To understand the cognitive processes underlying sentencing decisions, an analysis of trial records in cases of larceny, fraud, and forgery was conducted. Applying a Bayesian approach, five models of human judgment were tested against each other to predict the sentencing recommendations of the prosecution and to identify the crucial factors influencing sentencing decisions. The factors influencing sentencing were broadly consistent with the penal code. However, the prosecutors considered only a limited number of factors and neglected factors that were legally relevant and rated as highly important. Furthermore, testing the various cognitive judgment models against each other revealed that the sentencing process was apparently not consistent with the judgment policy recommended by the legal literature. Instead, the results show that prosecutors' sentencing recommendations were best described by the mapping model, a heuristic model of quantitative estimation. According to this model, sentencing recommendations rely on a categorization of cases based on the cases' characteristics.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:06 Faculty of Arts > Institute of Psychology
Dewey Decimal Classification:150 Psychology
Language:English
Date:December 2009
Deposited On:03 Mar 2017 09:27
Last Modified:18 Feb 2018 01:07
Publisher:American Psychological Association
ISSN:1076-898X
OA Status:Closed
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1037/a0018024
PubMed ID:20025422

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