Criminal Sentencing by Preferred Numbers

25 Pages Posted: 28 May 2020

See all articles by Mandeep K. Dhami

Mandeep K. Dhami

Middlesex University

Ian K. Belton

Middlesex University

Elizabeth Merrall

affiliation not provided to SSRN

Andrew McGrath

Charles Sturt University - School of Psychology

Sheila M. Bird

University of Cambridge

Date Written: March 2020

Abstract

Criminal sentencing is a complex cognitive activity often performed by the unaided mind under suboptimal conditions. As such, sentencers may not behave according to policy, guidelines, or training. We analyzed the distribution of sentences meted out in one year in two different jurisdictions (i.e., England and Wales, and New South Wales, Australia). We reveal that sentencers prefer certain numbers when meting out sentence lengths (in custody and community service) and amounts (for fines/compensation). These “common doses” accounted for over 90 percent of sentences in each jurisdiction. The size of these doses increased as sentences became more severe, and doses followed a logarithmic pattern. Our findings are compatible with psychological research on preferred numbers and are reminiscent of Weber's and Fechner's laws. The findings run contrary to arguments against efforts to reduce judicial discretion, and potentially undermine the notion of individualized justice, as well as raise questions about the (cost) effectiveness of sentencing.

Suggested Citation

Dhami, Mandeep K. and Belton, Ian K. and Merrall, Elizabeth and McGrath, Andrew and Bird, Sheila M., Criminal Sentencing by Preferred Numbers (March 2020). Journal of Empirical Legal Studies, Vol. 17, Issue 1, pp. 139-163, 2020, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3607383 or http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/jels.12246

Mandeep K. Dhami (Contact Author)

Middlesex University ( email )

The Burroughs
London, NW4 4BT
United Kingdom

Ian K. Belton

Middlesex University ( email )

The Burroughs
London, NW4 4BT
United Kingdom

Elizabeth Merrall

affiliation not provided to SSRN

No Address Available

Andrew McGrath

Charles Sturt University - School of Psychology ( email )

Australia

Sheila M. Bird

University of Cambridge

Trinity Ln
Cambridge, CB2 1TN
United Kingdom

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Downloads
1
Abstract Views
129
PlumX Metrics