Black defendants punished harsher after a judge’s favorite football team loses

Sports fandom is a powerful force, and it seems even judges aren’t immune from its effects.

In a study titled “Emotional Judges and Unlucky Juveniles,” Ozkan Eren and Naci Mocan, researches at the National Bureau of Economic Research, found that after LSU football suffered an upset loss, judges in Louisiana routinely doled out harsher sentences to juveniles.

These longer sentences disproportionately impacted black offenders.

Black juveniles received an extra 46 days of sentencing after an unexpected loss, an increase of almost nine percent. Meanwhile, white juveniles received an additional eight days.


The correlation was even stronger if the judge received an undergraduate degree from LSU. In that case, the sentences were 74 days longer than usual.

Overall, juveniles in Louisiana received an extra 1,332 days of sentencing due to unexpected LSU football losses.

Eren and Mocan point out that judges are expected by law to be “free of personal biases and emotions.” However, that is clearly not the case — judges are human just like the rest of us, and this study shines light on how capricious and unconsciously biased sentencing can be.

“Although harsher punishment handed down by judges is not deliberate (because it is triggered by an emotional shock), we find some evidence that black defendants bear much of the burden of judges’ wrath due to this emotional shock, which hints at a negative predisposition towards black defendants,” the researchers wrote.

“This result, coupled with the fact that there are no race related differences in the disposition length in the absence of judges’ emotional stress, is suggestive of the existence of a subtle, and previously-unnoticed, bias in sentencing.”


Racial bias in the criminal justice system is nothing new, but tying sentences to sports results just proves how vulnerable the entire paradigm is to prejudice and impartiality, intentional or otherwise.