Second Category

Study Shows Judges Fine Unattractive Criminals 304.88% Higher Than Attractive Criminals

Do judges favour attractive criminals over unattractive criminals?

Probably, according to the research conducted by A. Chris Downs and Phillip M. Lyons.

The purpose of this study was to find a link between a criminal’s attractiveness and sentencing outcomes.

The researcher's gathered a group of police officers and students to rate the attractiveness of over 2000 criminals. A scale of 1 - 5 was used and their ratings were mostly in unison.

Then, the judge’s sentencing decisions were divided into two main categories: misdemeanors and felonies. Misdemeanors were separated into to 3 classes, related to the severity of the crime.  

The Result

1. Misdemeanours

Judges fined unattractive criminals significantly more than attractive criminals. The fine incrementally increased as the attractiveness decreased.

2. Felonies

Curiously, felony fines had no correlation with the attractiveness of the criminal. The study does not make it clear why this is the case.

Answers to Possible Objections

  • The judges varied in gender and race.

  • There was no correlation between sentencing outcome and age, gender and race of the criminal.


For privacy reasons, the specific crime was not documented.

The direction of causation is not known:

The relationship of attractiveness to litigation processes may be of four basic types.

First, it may be that persons who are less attractive commit more serious crimes than those who are more attractive. This view suggests that unattractive people are more inclined toward crime, especially violent crime.

The second view is that criminal actions elicit differential perceptions of objective attractiveness, so that attractiveness estimates are modified by prior knowledge of the actions of the persons being judged.

Third, attractiveness and antisocial/criminal behaviors are tightly pleached, probably from an early age. Because their associations are routinely high, it is probable that the direction of effects between attractiveness and such behavior will remain unknown.

Finally, it may be possible that a third variable affects the relationship of attractiveness and criminal accusations/activities. Socioeconomic status, ethnicity, and developmental advantages (e.g., nutrition, schooling) might be such factors.

However, the incremental changes of the correlation between attractiveness and sentencing, weighs heavily on the probability of a causal link (refer to above image).

Key Takeaways

  1. The higher the attractiveness of the defendant, the lower the fine.

  2. While the direction of causation is unknown, one may infer that advising a client to present themselves as best as possible, could lower their sentence.

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The Fallacy of Negative Premises and 5 Cases that Failed

Why is this wrong?  

Laypersons are not competent to testify as expert witnesses.

Mr. Flashburger is a layperson.

Therefore, Mr. Flashburger is competent to testify as a fact witness.*           

We can intuitively recognise that the above argument makes no sense. However, can you explicitly identify the logical error?

The logical fallacy committed is named the Fallacy of Negative Premises.

Professor Stephen M. Rice has written a great paper on this Fallacy and provides us with a series real case examples.

What is the Fallacy of Negative Premises?

Put simply, the fallacy of Negative Premises is committed when one arrives at a positive conclusion, with a negative premise.

Let’s look at the example above.


The fallacy was committed because the argument used a negative premise (‘not competent’) and a positive conclusion (‘is competent’).

This seems obvious when broken down into raw components, however, it can be tricky to detect the fallacy amongst a complicated argument.

5 Case Examples

1. State v Weber

In the case State v Weber, a police officer pulled over Weber for driving over the speed limit. At the same time, the officer tested the driver’s alcohol level and found he was in-excess. However, Weber attempted to suppress this fact. He argued the police wanted to pull him over because of his speeding, not because of his alcohol levels. Although, there was no evidence of the officer’s motivations.

The argument can be broken down as follows:

Major premise: the police pulled over the driver;

Minor premise: there is no evidence of the police’s motivation;

Conclusion: Therefore, the police pulled over the driver motivated by something other than enforcing a speeding law.

The court detected the fallacy and stated, ‘it is a long-recognized logical fallacy to draw an affirmative conclusion from a negative premise.’

The argument was fallacious because it contained a negative premise (‘no evidence of motivation’) and a positive conclusion (‘motivated by’).    

2. State v Lackey

In this case, Lackey was accused of rape and murder. He defended himself by arguing that further DNA testing should be conducted.

The argument failed.                     

Major premise: Not all DNA samples were tested;

Minor premise: Hairs found on the victim's body were not tested;

Conclusion: Therefore, the hairs found on the victim's body should be tested.

This example is a tough one because we can intuitively understand the point that Lackey is trying to make.

After recognising the fallacy, Lackey corrected the argument but the court rejected it anyway.

Again, the argument was fallacious because it contained two negative premises (‘Not all DNA’ and ‘Hair’s… were not tested’) and an affirmative conclusion (‘should be tested’).

3. Ochsner v. Idealife Insurance Company

In this case, Ochsner tried to obtain insurance from ‘Idealife’ however, the insurance premium had not been paid for 9 years.

Ochsner won the case due to a logical technicality.                         

The legislation reads:                    

No life insurer shall within one year after default in payment of any premium, . . . declare forfeited or lapsed any policy . . . [without giving statutorily prescribed notice].

Idealife argued ‘that it provided notice of cancellation to’ Ochsner’s bank, but not to the Ochsner herself. However, ‘one cannot reach any affirmative conclusion (All life insurance policies unpaid after a year must lapse)’ with a negative premise (did not give notice to the insured).’                    

4. Walmsley v. City of Philadelphia

The Facts:                                    

An expert witness in a police brutality case testified that a man died from multiple blows to the head. The plaintiff argued that the blows occurred as a result of police brutality, while the police claimed that the man died from blows received in a fight that occurred prior to any police confrontation.

The parties agreed that prior to entering police custody, the deceased had been in a fight with his brother, and that near the end of the fight the deceased was struck two or three times in the face. Sometime after the fight, police arrived and took the deceased into custody. While the police were transporting him to the police station, the deceased lost consciousness and died.

The deceased's family claimed that before the police confrontation, they had an opportunity to observe the deceased, brushed his hair back from his face, and saw no lumps on his head. Afterwards, however, lumps were visible. The plaintiff argued that since the witnesses observed no lumps before the police confrontation, but observed them after, the lumps must not have been caused by the fight that preceded the confrontation.

However, the judge retorted and did an exceptional job in explaining the fallacy:     

This type of reasoning is unacceptable because of the difficulty in sustaining a factual proposition merely by negative evidence.

When an advocate determines that there is no evidence that B (bumps on the head) is the case; he or she is attempting to affirm or assume that non-B is the case. But all that is affirmed or assumed is that the advocate has found no evidence of non-B. The correct method of proceeding is to find affirmative evidence of non-B.

This may be difficult, but it is absolutely necessary if logical order is to be preserved. To prove a negative is sometimes an impossible task. Not knowing that something exists is simply not knowing.

5. Kolakowski v. Secretary of Health and Human Services                                

Kolakowski argued ‘that their son had died as a result of the Thimerosal contained in two Hepatitis B vaccinations.’ Kolakowki filed a petition to get compensation and their argument can be reduced  to the following syllogism:


Again, we can see that Kolakowski committed the Fallacy of Negative Premises.


  1. Watch out for the Fallacy of Negative Premises.
  2. Look for a negative premise, then a positive conclusion. Judge Green sums it up best, 'If one premise is negative, the conclusion must be negative.' If not, The Fallacy of Negative Premises is committed.     

Abductive Reasoning: A Primer

When you’re trying to explain a situation and there are several possibilities, which one do you choose?

This is where 'abductive reasoning' comes in.

The book The Philosopher’s Toolkit provides a great overview of the philosophy.

What is abductive reasoning?

Abduction is a process of reasoning used to decide which explanation of given phenomena we should select, and so, naturally, it is also called ‘argument to the best explanation’.

In other words, a method of deciding which explanation is superior.

Principles of Abduction

It must be noted that these principles are only tools. There is no way of knowing with 100% certainty which explanation is the best explanation. We can however, reach a closer probability of being correct. 

The main principles are:

1. Simplicity

When possible, go with the least complicated explanation, the one that requires the fewest and most direct causal sequences, the fewest claims about what exists, and that relies upon matters beyond the evidence as little as possible.

In essence, this principle is the same as Ockham's Razor.

2. Coherence

When possible, go with the explanation that’s consistent with what experts about the world already believe to be true.

3. Testability or Predictive Power

When possible, go with the theory that yields the most predictions that can be confirmed or disconfirmed.

That is to say, if investigation fails to confirm the prediction or finds an improbable absence of evidence, or if it fails to establish the existence of required entities, then the credibility of the hypothesis is diminished. Countervailing considerations such as disconfirming evidence or established knowledge with which the hypothesis cannot cohere diminishes the credibility of the hypothesis even further.

4. Comprehensiveness in Scope

When possible, go with the explanation that explains the most and leaves the fewest loose ends (or things unexplained).


The Scenario

A man is found in a cabin in a remote forest, with all the doors and windows securely locked from the inside, hanging dead from a noose. A suicide note in the man’s handwriting lies on the table nearby.

Possible Explanation 1:

Perhaps the man was rehearsing a dramatic play about suicide, had locked the doors for privacy, and things had gone terribly wrong.

That explanation suggests the existence of a relevant play and perhaps would predict a script of the play to have been in the man’s possession. It also raises the likelihood that the man would have been something like a member of a theatre troupe or drama class, or told his friends that he was auditioning for a play and so on. If, however, after examining the cabin and the man’s home, interviewing his friends, checking local theatre groups, no such evidence is found, this explanation can be discounted. 

Possible Explanation 2:

Or perhaps the CIA has developed teletransporters. Using one, perhaps an assassin beamed into the cabin, killed the man, set things up to look like a suicide, then beamed out without ever opening a door.

[This] fails to produce confirming evidence: it requires the existence of an extraordinary machine, it is difficult to test and it does not cohere with our background knowledge about the technological abilities of the US government or, perhaps, about space and time.

Possible Explanation 3:

Perhaps a demonic spirit living in the woods nearby magically entered the room, killed the man and then vanished.

[This] requires us to believe in the existence of supernatural beings not required by the other explanations and for which we have no evidence.

Possible Explanation 4: (Best Explanation)


Suicide as an explanation, on the other hand, is simple. It requires us to posit the existence of neither supernatural spirits nor secret, illegal government operations involving unknown but improbably advanced technologies. It allows us to make predictions that can be tested. (For example, by looking for documentation of depression or likely causes of depression such as having recently been fired, bankrupt or divorced.) Unlike the actor theory the suicide theory doesn’t predict the existence of things (like scripts) that can’t be found. It is consistent with our background knowledge of common human behaviour. And it explains all the facts before us.


The Philosopher's Toolkit by Peter S. Fosl and Julian Baggini

Study Shows Judges are 65% More Likely to Grant Parole After Lunch

The purpose of this study was to prove that judges can be influenced by irrelevant factors. The researcher's were trying to debunk ‘legal formalism’ and pave the way for ‘legal realism.’

Legal formalism holds that judges apply legal reasons to the facts of a case in a rational, mechanical, and deliberative manner. In contrast, legal realists argue that the rational application of legal reasons does not sufficiently explain the decisions of judges and that psychological, political, and social factors influence judicial rulings.

The Study

The researcher's, Shai DanzigerJonathan Levav, and Liora Avnaim-Pesso, gathered data on parole decisions by experienced judges. After examining over 1000 decisions, they found that judges have a 65% chance of granting parole after a rest. However, as time goes by, the probability reduces all the way down to zero.

To repeat, after a judge’s food break, the probability of being granted parole is at 65%. Just before the break, zero.

The Science

When people become mentally depleted, they’re more likely to favour the status quo.

In our case, as the judges became more mentally depleted, they gradually decided in favour of the default position. As it’s safer to leave criminals in prison, the default position became a rejection of parole.

Answers to Possible Objections:

The researchers examined other possibilities: the ‘severity of crime, months served, previous incarcerations, and rehabilitation program, prisoner demographics (sex, nationality), and the proportion of favorable rulings to that point in the day.’

They found no correlation. However, they did find two additional insights:

  • Prisoners that were on a rehabilitation program were more likely to be granted parole;

  • As expected, prisoners that offended multiple times, were less likely to be granted parole.


It is better to be positioned at the beginning of a court session if the prisoner’s request deviates from the default decision.

Judges are not purely rational. Just like the rest of us, they can be influenced by irrelevant factors.

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Extraneous factors in judicial decisions by Shai Danziger, Jonathan Levav, and Liora Avnaim-Pesso

Anchoring Effect: Study Shows Judges Give Longer Sentences After Rolling Dice

You would think an experienced judge is immune to trivial and random psychological tricks… They’re not.

In this studyBirte EnglichThomas Mussweiler and Fritz Strack, conducted a series of psychological experiments on experienced German judges. The purpose was to test the strength of the ‘anchoring effect’. That is, the subconscious tendency to rely on the first piece of information as a reference point.

This can be a problem because the first piece of information may be irrelevant, meaning the individual is not reasoning objectively; their judgment is distorted.

It turns out, judges are influenced by this effect. So much so, they’ll hand out higher sentences. 

The Study

In the first study, the judges were exposed to numbers by a journalist. The journalist questioned the judge by asking if the sentence would be higher or lower than a certain number.

The result: the judges that were exposed to the high anchor gave a sentencing of 33 months. The judges that were to exposed the low anchor gave a sentencing of 25 months.

In the second study, the judges were ‘asked to consider the sentencing demands of the prosecutor and the defense attorney before reporting their final decision.’ [1] But, here’s the catch, the judges were informed that the numbers were entirely random.

The result: the judges that were exposed to the high demands gave a sentencing of 6 months. The judges that were exposed to the low demands gave a sentencing of 4 months. Remember, the judges knew that the demands were random.

In the third study, the judges were again ‘asked to consider the sentencing demands of the prosecutor and the defense attorney before reporting their final decision.’ [1] This time, the attorney’s numbers was determined by rolling some dice. To make it worse, the judges threw the dice themselves.

The result: The judges dice that landed on high numbers gave sentencing of 8 months. The judges with low numbers gave a sentencing of 5 months.


Anchoring Study Chart

The Science

So what is going on here?

The anchoring effect.

This psychological phenomenon ‘occurs when people consider a particular value for an unknown quantity before estimating that quantity.’ ‘The estimates stay close to the number that people considered—hence the image of an anchor.’ [2]

The takeaway message

The dice, the journalist’s demands and the attorneys demands, are not important.

What’s important is that a judge’s decision can be subjected to the anchoring effect.

Why does this matter?

Even though judges typically do not throw dice before making sentencing decisions, they are still constantly exposed to potential sentences and anchors during sentencing decisions. The mass media, visitors to the court hearings, the private opinion of the judge’s partner, family, or neighbors are all possible sources of sentencing demands that should not influence a given sentencing decision.            

Sentencing decisions may also be influenced by irrelevant anchors that simply happen to be uppermost in a judge’s mind when making a sentencing decision.

[Our research] suggests that irrelevant influences on sentencing decisions may be a widespread phenomenon. [1]

So, how can we use the anchoring effect to our advantage? Or more frighteningly, how can we defend ourselves if the opposition uses it?

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