On the Case

Kevin Lewis

November 17, 2022

Coordination and expertise foster legal textualism
Ivar Hannikainen et al.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 1 November 2022 


A cross-cultural survey experiment revealed a dominant tendency to rely on a rule's letter over its spirit when deciding which behaviors violate the rule. This tendency varied markedly across (k = 15) countries, owing to variation in the impact of moral appraisals on judgments of rule violation. Compared with laypeople, legal experts were more inclined to disregard their moral evaluations of the acts altogether and consequently exhibited stronger textualist tendencies. Finally, we evaluated a plausible mechanism for the emergence of textualism: in a two-player coordination game, incentives to coordinate in the absence of communication reinforced participants' adherence to rules' literal meaning. Together, these studies (total n = 5,794) help clarify the origins and allure of textualism, especially in the law. Within heterogeneous communities in which members diverge in their moral appraisals involving a rule's purpose, the rule's literal meaning provides a clear focal point -- an identifiable point of agreement enabling coordinated interpretation among citizens, lawmakers, and judges.

Is Internalized Racism One More Piece of the Puzzle in Racial Disparities in Prosecution?
Besiki Luka Kutateladze & Lin Liu
Justice Quarterly, forthcoming 


Although diversifying the criminal justice apparatus may yield more equitable outcomes, empirical tests of how prosecutors' race affects their decisions are limited. Informed by Internalized Racism Theory (IRT), we hypothesized that Black prosecutors would be most punitive toward Black defendants, followed by Latino/a defendants, and least toward White and Asian defendants. Employing hierarchical logistic modelling, we analyzed data from a large prosecutorial office to examine the extent to which prosecutors' race is associated with racial disparities in custodial plea offers and charge reductions. We found notable support for our hypotheses. In cases disposed of by Black prosecutors, Black and Latino/defendants are significantly more likely to receive custodial plea offers than are similarly-situated White and Asian defendants. Although the direction of the relationship with charge reductions was in line with our hypotheses, no significant effects were detected.

Do Partisan Judicial Elections Cause Convergence in Capital Cases? Empirical Evidence from Close Contests
Brett Parker
Stanford Working Paper, September 2022 


Scholars of American politics have evaluated the predictions of the median voter theorem in a wide variety of contexts. To my knowledge, however, no research explicitly considers the application of the theorem to U.S. judges. Since debates about judicial selection methods often assume that judicial elections produce responsiveness, it is important to address this gap in the literature. This article takes on that task. Using a close elections regression discontinuity design, I assess whether partisanship makes a difference in how judges vote in capital cases on direct appeal. Examining eight states with capital punishment and partisan elections for state supreme court, I collected 10,262 votes from 166 judges who won a two-party contest between 1980 and 2020. Across a wide variety of model specifications, I find only small differences between Democratic and Republican justices, none of which achieve significance at conventional levels. These small differences shrink to near zero when I limit my sample to judges who sought reelection. This finding contributes to a growing literature suggesting that voters can have considerable influence over the positions of state and local political elites on high salience issues.

Executive Control of Agency Adjudication: Capacity, Selection, and Precedential Rulemaking
David Hausman et al.
Journal of Law, Economics, and Organization, forthcoming 


While the volume of adjudication by federal agencies far outstrips the volume of cases decided by the federal judiciary, researchers have devoted relatively little attention to agency adjudication and political control thereof. We study three mechanisms of presidential control of immigration adjudication: capacity-building, selection, and precedential rulemaking. First, consistent with work on bureaucratic capacity, the Trump administration achieved its goal of increasing removals of noncitizens through an unprecedented increase in total hiring of immigration judges (IJs). Second, contrary to expectations from the literatures on judicial behavior and bureaucratic politics, we find little evidence of partisan effects in IJ selection. Third, we demonstrate the substantial power of what we call "precedential rulemaking" - the power by the Attorney General to select cases in which to issue binding precedent. These results illustrate the importance of incorporating mechanisms of supervisory and legal control into the study of administrative courts.

Guilty plea hearings in juvenile and criminal court
Allison Redlich et al.
Law and Human Behavior, October 2022, Pages 337-352 

Method: Trained coders in California (n = 104, juvenile court) and Virginia (n = 140, juvenile court; n = 593, criminal court) systematically observed more than 800 guilty plea hearings. Coders reliably documented hearing length, whether the defendant was in pretrial custody, whether the evidence was reviewed, details on defendant participation, and judicial attention to plea validity.

Results: On average, juvenile plea hearings lasted about 7 min and criminal plea hearings lasted 13 min. Prosecutors rarely reviewed evidence against the defendants in the juvenile courts, and in one juvenile court, judges paid virtually no attention to plea validity. In the other two courts, certain waived rights (e.g., to trial, to silence) were reviewed consistently. Depending on the court, hearing length and plea validity elements addressed varied by defendants' prehearing custody status and the pled-to charge severity.

Waiving goodbye to youth: Jurors perceive transferred juveniles differently from adults but render similar verdicts
Jacqueline Katzman et al.
Behavioral Sciences & the Law, forthcoming 


Juveniles are developmentally different from adults but are often treated similarly in the criminal justice system. In case processing, many juveniles are transferred to adult courts. Before case processing, many juveniles are interrogated with the same tactics used against adults. Limited research has examined jurors' decisions in juvenile transfer cases, particularly those involving confession evidence. In two studies, we built on this small line of research and extended it to examine whether jurors make different decisions for juvenile versus adult defendants with differing types of confession evidence. Participants listened to a trial that varied in defendant age (Study 1: 16, 23; Study 2: 13, 16, 23, 42), interrogation pressure (low, high), and interrogation outcome (denial, confession). They rendered a verdict and rated the defendant on dangerousness and maturity. Age did not affect verdict in either study, but it did affect perceptions of dangerousness and maturity in both studies. Study 2 replicated and extended our findings by showing that differences in dangerousness and maturity were driven by participants' preexisting stereotypes about juveniles as superpredators. Overall, jurors recognized juveniles' lesser maturity but did not account for it in their verdicts. The stigma associated with the superpredator stereotype may limit jurors' sensitivity to the developmental vulnerabilities of juvenile defendants.

An experimental manipulation of rapport and moral minimization within a criminal interview
Jonathan Vallano et al.
Psychology, Public Policy, and Law, forthcoming


Rapport is often viewed as the foundation of a successful investigative interview for its ability to increase cooperation and help interviewers obtain reliable and comprehensive information. However, rapport building may also serve to increase interpersonal influence and thereby might increase the power of other tactics, such as minimization. The present study experimentally manipulated both rapport building and moral minimization to test their combined effects on the reporting of crime-relevant details. Interviewers posing as police interns interviewed 188 undergraduates to procure detailed information pertaining to participants' actual criminal behavior for which they believed they could face legal consequences. In the course of completing scripted interviews that included both open and cued questions, interviewers either built rapport or not, and either morally minimized participants' criminal behavior or not. Although neither rapport nor moral minimization independently increased the number of crime-relevant details acquired in the interview, they did evidence synergistic effects. This was indicated by a significant interaction, wherein moral minimization increased the number of crime-relevant details acquired during the interview, but only in combination with rapport. Similarly, rapport increased the number of crime-relevant details acquired, but only in combination with moral minimization. Although results support the importance of rapport within investigative interviews, they more generally indicate the potential for more synergistic effects between interviewing tactics. Accordingly, findings encourage the use of rapport in the conduct of information-gathering interviews designed to obtain comprehensive and truthful accounts and emphasize the prudence of avoiding potentially coercive tactics that might be strengthened when paired with rapport.

Social cognitive processes explain bias in juror decisions
Jaime Castrellon et al.
Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, forthcoming


Jury decisions are among the most consequential social decisions in which bias plays a notable role. While courts take measures to reduce the influence of non-evidentiary factors, jurors may still incorporate biases into their decisions. One common bias, crime-type bias, is the extent to which the perceived strength of a prosecutor's case depends on the severity of the crime. Moral judgment, affect, and social cognition have been proposed as core processes underlying this and other biases. Behavioral evidence alone has been insufficient to distinguish these explanations. To identify the mechanism underlying crime-type bias, we collected fMRI patterns of brain activation from mock jurors reading criminal scenarios. Brain patterns from crime-type bias were most similar to those associated with social cognition (mentalizing and racial bias) but not affect or moral judgment. Our results support a central role for social cognition in juror decisions and suggest crime-type bias and cultural bias may arise from similar mechanisms.

Measuring Quality in Legal Education: Examining the Relationship Between Law School Rank and Student Engagement
Louis Rocconi & Austin Boyd
Research in Higher Education, November 2022, Pages 1261-1282 


U.S. News and World Report's "Best Law Schools" dominate the conversation on quality in legal education. Despite their popularity, the criteria used to rank schools often has little to do with the quality of the educational experience. If rankings are intended to demonstrate quality, then these measures should be related with other measures of collegiate quality, such as student engagement. This study investigated the relationship between law school rankings and student engagement using data from the Law School Survey of Student Engagement. Findings reveal no relationship between ranking and engagement, except for a small, positive relationship between ranking and satisfaction.


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