Can Judges Ignore Inadmissible Information? The Difficulty of Deliberately Disregarding

96 Pages Posted: 4 Apr 2005  

Jeffrey J. Rachlinski

Cornell Law School

Andrew J. Wistrich

California Central District Court

Chris Guthrie

Vanderbilt University - Law School

Abstract

Due process requires courts to make decisions based on the evidence before them without regard to information outside of the record. Skepticism about the ability of jurors to ignore inadmissible information is widespread. Empirical research confirms that this skepticism is well founded. Many courts and commentators, however, assume that judges can accomplish what jurors cannot. This Article reports the results of experiments we have conducted to determine whether judges can ignore inadmissible information. We found that the judges who participated in our experiments struggled to perform this challenging mental task. The judges had difficulty disregarding demands disclosed during a settlement conference, conversation protected by the attorney-client privilege, prior sexual history of an alleged rape victim, prior criminal convictions of a plaintiff, and information the government had promised not to rely upon at sentencing. This information influenced judges' decisions even when they were reminded, or themselves had ruled, that the information was inadmissible. In contrast, the judges were able to ignore inadmissible information obtained in violation of a criminal defendant's right to counsel and the outcome of a search when determining whether probable cause existed. We conclude that judges are generally unable to avoid being influenced by relevant but inadmissible information of which they are aware. Nevertheless, judges displayed a surprising ability to do so in some situations.

Suggested Citation

Rachlinski , Jeffrey J. and Wistrich, Andrew J. and Guthrie, Chris, Can Judges Ignore Inadmissible Information? The Difficulty of Deliberately Disregarding. University of Pennsylvania Law Review, Vol. 153, 2005. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=696781

Jeffrey John Rachlinski (Contact Author)

Cornell Law School ( email )

Myron Taylor Hall
Cornell University
Ithaca, NY 14853-4901
United States
607-255-5878 (Phone)
607-255-7193 (Fax)

Andrew J. Wistrich

California Central District Court ( email )

Los Angeles, CA 90012
United States

Chris Guthrie

Vanderbilt University - Law School ( email )

131 21st Avenue South
Nashville, TN 37203-1181
United States
615-322-6823 (Phone)
615-322-6631 (Fax)

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