Understanding Judges’ Sentencing Decisions

Attributions of Responsibility and Story Construction
  • Arthur J. Lurigio
  • John S. Carroll
  • Loretta J. Stalans
Part of the Social Psychological Applications to Social Issues book series (SPAS, volume 3)


To paraphrase Hogarth (1971), judicial sentencing is a process involving human judgment and decision making with all its pitfalls and limitations. Examining how judges organize, interpret, and use information about offenders is crucial to the explanation of this process and its outcomes. As Lawrence (1984) has noted, however, “little empirical evidence has been available on how judicial decisions are made” (p. 319). Since 1984, a few studies have investigated the decisionmaking processes underlying judicial sentencing; nonetheless, empirical research and conceptual development in the area are still very limited.


Goal Preference Causal Attribution Probation Officer Case Fact Sentencing Guideline 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Austin, W., & Utne, M. K. (1977). Sentencing: Discretion and justice in judicial decision-making. In B. D. Sales (Ed.), Psychology in the legal process (pp. 163–194). New York: Spectrum.Google Scholar
  2. Batson, C. D., Jones, C. H., & Cochran, P J. (1979). Attributional bias in counselors’ diagnoses: The effects of resources. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 9, 377–393.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bennett, T., & Wright, R. (1984). Burglars on burglary. Brookfield, VT: Gower.Google Scholar
  4. Blumberg, A. S. (1967). Criminal justice. Chicago: Quadrangle.Google Scholar
  5. Blumstein, A., Cohen, J., Martin, S. E., & Tonry, M. H. (1983). Research on sentencing: The search for reform. Vol. 1. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.Google Scholar
  6. Bodenhausen, G. V., & Wyer, R. S., Jr. (1985). Effects of stereotypes on decision making and information-processing strategies. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 48, 267–282.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Bond, R. A., & Lemon, N. F. (1981). Training, experience, and magistrates’ sentencing philosophies. Law and Human Behavior, 5, 123–139.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Borgida, E., & White, R. (1978). Social perception of rape victims: The impact of legal reform. Law and Human Behavior, 2, 339–352.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Brickman, R, Ryan, D., & Wortman, C. B. (1975). Causal chains: Attribution of responsibility as a function of immediate and prior causes. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 32, 1060–1067.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Brooks, W M., & Doob, A. N. (1975). Justice and the jury. Journal of Social Issues, 31, 171–182.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Cantor, N., Smith, E. E., French, R., & Mezzich, J. (1980). Psychiatric diagnoses as prototype categorization. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 89, 181–193.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Carroll, J. S. (1978). Causal attributions in expert parole decisions. Journal of Personality, 36, 1501–1511.Google Scholar
  13. Carroll, J. S., Galegher, J., & Wiener, R. L. (1982). Dimensional and categorical attributions in expert parole decisions. Basic and Applied Social Psychology, 3, 187–201.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Carroll, J. S., & Payne, J. W. (1976). The psychology of parole decision process: A joint application of attribution theory and information processing psychology. In J. S. Carroll & J. W. Payne (Eds.), Cognition and social behavior (pp. 13–32). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  15. Carroll, J. S., & Payne, J. W. (1977a). Judgments about crime and the criminal: A model and a method for investigating parole decisions. In B. D. Sales (Ed.), Perspectives in law and psychology, Vol. 1: Criminal justice system (pp. 119–139). New York: Plenum.Google Scholar
  16. Carroll, J. S., & Payne, J. W. (1977b). Crime seriousness recidivism risk, and causal attributions in judgements of prison terms by students and experts. Journal of Applied Psychology, 62, 595–602.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Carroll, J. S., Perkowitz, W. T., Lurigio, A. J., & Weaver, F M. (1987). Sentencing goals, causal attributions, ideology, and personality. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 52, 107–118.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Carroll, J. S., & Wiener, R. L. (1982). Cognitive social psychology in court and beyond. In A. Hastorf & A. Isen (Eds.), Cognitive social psychology (pp. 213–253). New York: Elsevier.Google Scholar
  19. Carter, R. M., & Wilkins, L. T. (1967). Some factors in sentencing policy. Journal of Criminal Law, Criminology, and Police Science, 58, 503–515.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Clear, T. R., & Cole, G. F. (1990). American corrections. Belmont, CA: Brooks/Cole.Google Scholar
  21. Cohen, J., & Tonry, M. H. (1983). Sentencing reforms and their impacts. In A. Blumstein, J. Cohen, S. E. Martin, & M. H. Tonry (Eds.), Research on sentencing: The search for reform (pp. 305–359). Washington, DC: National Academy Press.Google Scholar
  22. Corbett, C. (1987). Magistrates’ and court clerks’ sentencing behavior: An experimental study. In D. C. Pennington & S. Lloyd-Bostock (Eds.), Psychology of sentencing (pp. 204–216). Oxford, U.K.: Centre for Socio-Legal Research.Google Scholar
  23. DeJong, W, Morris, W N., & Hastorf, A. H. (1976). Effect of an escaped accomplice on the punishment assigned to a criminal defendant. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 33, 192–198.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Diamond, S. S. (1981). Exploring patterns in sentencing disparity. In B. D. Sales(Ed.), Perspectives in law and psychology: The trial process (Vol. 2, pp. 387–411). New York: Plenum.Google Scholar
  25. Diamond, S. S. (1982). Order in the court: Consistency in criminal court decisions. In C. J. Scheiner & B. L. Hammonds (Eds.), The master lecture series: Psychology and law (Vol. 2, pp. 117–136). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.Google Scholar
  26. Diamond, S. S. (1990). Revising images of public punitiveness: Sentencing by lay and professional English magistrates. Law and Social Inquiry, 15, 191–221.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Diamond, S. S., & Herhold, C. (1982). Understanding criminal sentencing: Views from law and social psychology. In G. M. Stephenson & J. H. Davis (Eds.), Progress in applied social psychology (Vol. 1, pp. 47–63). London: John Wiley.Google Scholar
  28. Diamond, S. S., & Stalans, L. J. (1989). The myth of judicial leniency in sentencing. Behavioral Science and the Law, 7, 73–89.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Diamond, S. S., & Zeisel, H. (1975). Sentencing councils: A study of sentence disparity and its reduction. University of Chicago Law Review, 43, 109–149.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Ebbesen, E. B., & Konecni, V. J. (1981). The process of sentencing adult felons: A causal analysis of judicial decision. In B. D. Sales (Ed.), The trial process (pp. 413–458). New York: Plenum Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Ebbesen, E. B., & Konecni, V J. (1982). An analysis of the bail system. In V. J. Konecni & E. B. Ebbesen (eds.), The criminal justice system: A social-psychological analysis (pp. 191–229). San Francisco: W. H. Freeman.Google Scholar
  32. Efran, M. G. (1974). The effect of physical attractiveness on the judgment of guilt, interpersonal attraction, and severity of recommended punishment in a simulated jury task. Journal of Research in Personality, 8, 45–54.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Elstein, A. S., Shulman, L. S., & Sprafka, S. A. (1978). Medical problem solving: An analysis of clinical reasoning. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  34. Ewart, B., & Pennington, D. C. (1987). An attributional approach to explaining sentencing disparity. In D. C. Pennington & S. Lloyd-Bostock (Eds.), The psychology of sentencing (pp. 181–192). Oxford, U.K.: Centre for Socio-Legal Studies.Google Scholar
  35. Fincham, E D., & Jaspars, J. M. (1980). Attribution of responsibility: From man-the-scientist to man- as-lawyer. In L. Berkowitz (Ed.), Advances in experimental social psychology (pp. 82–138). New York: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  36. Fiske, S. T., & Taylor, S. E. (1991). Social cognition. New York: McGraw-Hill.Google Scholar
  37. Fitzmaurice, C., & Pease, K. (1986). The psychology of judicial sentencing. Manchester, U.K.: Manchester University Press.Google Scholar
  38. Fontaine, G., & Emily, C. (1978). Causal attribution and judicial discretion: A look at the verbal behavior of municipal court judges. Law and Human Behavior, 2, 323–338.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Forst, B., & Wellford, C. (1981). Punishing and sentencing: Developing sentencing guidelines empirically from principles of punishment. Rutgers Law Review, 9, 799–837.Google Scholar
  40. Frank, J. (1949). Courts on trial. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  41. Galegher, J. (1987). The influence of perceived causality and judicial orientation on criminal sentencing decisions. Unpublished manuscript, University of Arizona.Google Scholar
  42. Galegher, J., & Carroll, J. S. (1983). Voluntary sentencing guidelines: Prescription for justice or patent medicine? Law and Human Behavior, 4, 361–400.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Goldin, S. E. (1979). Facial stereotypes as cognitive categories. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Carnegie-Mellon University.Google Scholar
  44. Gottfredson, D. M., Gottfredson, S.D. , & Conly, C. H. (1989). Stakes and risk: Incapacitative intent in sentencing decisions. Behavioral Science and the Law, 7, 91–106.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Gottfredson, D. M., Wilkins, L. T., & Hoffman, P B. (1978). Guidelines for parole and sentencing. Lexington, MA: Lexington.Google Scholar
  46. Grishaw, R., & Pratt, J. (1985). Responses to truancy among the juvenile panel of a magistrates’ court. British Journal of Criminology, 25, 321–343.Google Scholar
  47. Hamilton, V L. (1978). Who is responsible? Toward a social psychology of responsibility attribution. Social Psychology, 41, 316–328.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Hamilton, V. L. (1980). Intuitive psychologist or intuitive lawyer? Alternative models of the attribution process. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 39, 767–772.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Hamilton, V L., & Sanders, J. (1983). Universals in judging wrongdoing. American Sociological Review, 48, 199–211.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Hart, H. L. A., & Honore, A. M. (1959). Causation in the law. Oxford, U.K.: Clarendon Press.Google Scholar
  51. Harvey, D., & Enzle, M. E. (1978). Effects of retaliation latency and provocation level on judged blameworthiness of retaliatory aggression. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 4, 579–582.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Hastie, R., Penrod, S. D., & Pennington, N. (1983). Inside the jury. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  53. Heider, E. (1958). The psychology of interpersonal relations. New York: Wiley.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Hogarth, J. (1971). Sentencing as a human process. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.Google Scholar
  55. Holstein, J. A. (1985). Jurors’ interpretations and jury decision making. Law and Human Behavior, 9, 83–100.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Hood, R., & Sparks, R. (1970). Key issues in criminology. New York: McGraw-Hill.Google Scholar
  57. Horai, I, & Bartek, M. (1978). Recommended publishment as a function of injurious intent, actual harm done, and intended consequences. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 4, 575–578.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Jones, E. E., & Davis, K. E. (1965). From acts to dispositions. In L. Berkowitz (Ed.), Advances in experimental social psychology (Vol. 2, pp. 219–266). New York: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  59. Joseph, J. M., Kane, T. R., Gaes, G. G., & Tedeschi, J. T. (1976). Effects of effort on attributed intent and perceived aggressiveness. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 42, 706–711.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Kahneman, D., & Tversky, A. (1973). On the psychology of prediction. Psychological Review, 80, 237–251.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Kahneman, E., & Tversky, A. (1982). The simulation heuristic. In D. Kahneman, R Slovic, & A. Tversky (Eds.), Judgment under uncertainty: Heuristics and biases (pp. 201–208). New York: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Kapardis, A., & Farrington, D. R. (1981). An experimental study of sentencing by magistrates. Law and Human Behavior, 5, 107–121.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Konecni, V. J., & Ebbesen, E. B. (1982). The mythology of legal decision-making. International Journal of Law and Psychiatry, 7, 5–18.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Kruglanski, A. W., Hamel, E. Z., Maides, S. A., & Schwartz, J. M. (1978). Attribution theory as a special case of lay epistemology. In J. H. Harvey, W. Ickes, & R. E Kidd (Eds.), New directions in attribution research (Vol. 2, pp. 299–333). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  65. Landy, D., & Aronson, E. (1969). The influence of the character of the criminal and his victim on the decisions of simulated jurors. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 5, 141–152.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Lawrence, J. A. (1984). Magisterial decision-making: Cognitive perspectives and processes used in courtroom information processing. In D. J. Muller, D. E. Blackman, & A. J. Chapman (Eds.), Psychology and law (pp. 319–331). New York: John Wiley.Google Scholar
  67. Lawrence, J. A. (1988). Expertise on the bench: Modeling magistrates judicial decision-making. In M. T. H. Chi, R. Glaser, & M. J. Farr. The nature of expertise (pp. 229–260). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  68. Lemon, N. (1974). Training, personality and attitude as determinants of magistrates’ sentencing. British Journal of Criminology, 14, 34–48.Google Scholar
  69. Lombroso, C. (1911). Crime, its causes and remedies. Boston: Little, Brown.Google Scholar
  70. Lovegrove, A. (1986). Judges, sentencing, and experimental psychology. Journal of Community Psychology, 14, 253–266.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Lurigio, A. J., & Carroll, J. S. (1985). Probation officers’ schemata of offenders: Content, development and impact on treatment decisions. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 48, 1112–1126.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Lussier, R., Perlman, D., & Breen, L. (1977). Causal attributions, attitude similarity, and the punishment of drug offenders. British Journal of Addiction, 72, 357–364.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. McFatter, R. M. (1978). Sentencing strategies and justice: Effects of punishment philosophy on sentencing decision. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 36, 1490–1500.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. McFatter, R. M. (1982). Purposes of punishment: Effects of utilities of criminal sanctions on perceived appropriateness. Journal of Applied Psychology, 67, 255–267.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  75. McGillis, D. (1978). Attribution and the law: Convergence between legal psychological concepts. Law and Human Behavior, 2, 289–300.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. McKnight, C. (1981). Subjectivity in sentencing. Law and Human Behavior, 5, 141–147.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. Monahan, J., & Hood, G. (1976). Psychologically disordered and criminal offenders. Criminal Justice and Behavior, 3, 123–134.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  78. National Institute of Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice (1978). Determinate sentencing: Reform or regression? Washington, DC: Government Printing Office.Google Scholar
  79. O’Donnell, P., Churgin, M. J., & Curtis, D. E. (1977). Toward a just and effective sentencing system: Agenda for legislative reform. New York: Praeger.Google Scholar
  80. Palys, T. S., & Divorski, S. (1984). Judicial decision making: An examination of sentencing disparity among Canadian Provincial Court Judges. In D. J. Muller, D. E. Blackman, & A. J. Chapman (Eds.), Psychology and law (pp. 333–344). New York: John Wiley.Google Scholar
  81. Partridge, A., & Eldridge, W. (1974). The Second Circuit sentencing study: A report to the judges of the Second Circuit. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.Google Scholar
  82. Pennington, N., & Hastie, R. (1986). Evidence evaluation in complex decision making. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 51, 242–248.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  83. Pepitone, A., & DiNubile, M. (1976). Contrast effects in judgments of crime severity and the punishment of criminal violators. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 33, 448–459.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  84. Piehl, J. (1977). Integration of information in the “Courts”: Influence of physical attractiveness on amount of punishment for a traffic offender. Psychological Reports, 41, 551–556.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  85. Read, S. J. (1987). Constructing causal scenarios: A knowledge structure approach to causal reasoning. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 51, 288–302.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  86. Rich, W. D., Sutton, L. R, Clear, T. R., & Saks, M. J. (1982). Sentencing by mathematics: An evaluation of the early attempts to develop and implement sentencing guidelines. Williamsburg, VA: National Center for State Courts.Google Scholar
  87. Roberts, J. V., & Edwards, D. (1989). Contextual effects in judgments of crimes, criminals, and the purposes of sentencing. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 19, 902–917.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  88. Roberts, C. E., Golding, S. L., & Fincham, E D. (1987). Implicit theories of criminal responsibility: Decision making and the insanity defense. Law and Human Behavior, 11, 207–232.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  89. Rosch, E., Mervis, C. B., Gray, W. D., Johnson, D. M., & Boyes-Graem, R (1976). Basic objects in natural categories. Cognitive Psychology, 8, 382–439.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  90. Rosen, B., & Jerdee, J. H. (1974). Factors influencing disciplinary judgments. Journal of Applied Psychology, 59, 327–331.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  91. Rush, C., & Robertson, J. (1987). Presentence reports: The utility of information to the sentencing decision. Law and Human Behavior, 11, 147–155.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  92. Sanders, J., & Hamilton, V. L. (1987). Is there a “Common Law” of responsibility?: The effect of demographic variables on judgments of wrongdoing. Law and Human Behavior, 11, 277–297.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  93. Sebb, L. (1980). Is mens rea a component of offense seriousness? Unpublished manuscript. Hebrew University, Jerusalem.Google Scholar
  94. Semin, G. R., & Manstead, A. S. R. (1983). The accountability of conduct. New York: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  95. Sheldon, W. H. (1949). Varieties of delinquent youth: An introduction to constitutional psychiatry. New York: Harper.Google Scholar
  96. Shoemaker, D. J., South, D. R., & Lowe, J. (1973). Facial stereotypes of deviants & judgments of guilt and innocence. Social Forces, 57, 427–433.Google Scholar
  97. Simon, R. (1967). The jury and the defense of insanity. Boston: Little, Brown.Google Scholar
  98. Smith, E. R. (1990). Content and process specificity in the effects of prior experiences. In T. K. Srull & R. S. Wyer (Eds.), Advances in social cognition (Vol. 3, pp. 1–59). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  99. Snyder, M., & Cantor, N. (1979). Testing hypotheses about other people: The use of historical knowledge. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 15, 330–342.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  100. Solomon, M. R., & Schopler, J. (1978). The relationship of physical attractiveness and punitiveness: Is the linearity assumption out of line? Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 4, 483–486.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  101. Stalans, L. J. (1993). Citizens’ crime stereotypes, biased recall, and punishment preferences in abstract cases: The educative role of interpersonal sources. Law and Human Behavior, 17, 451–470.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  102. Stalans, L. J. (1988). Sentencing in ambiguous cases: Prototypes, perceived similarity and anchoring. Unpublished master’s thesis, Department of Psychology, University of Illinois at Chicago.Google Scholar
  103. Stalans, L. J., & Lurigio, A. J. (1990). Lay and professional’s beliefs about crime and criminal sentencing: A need for theory, perhaps schema theory. Criminal Justice and Behavior, 17, 333–349.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  104. Sulzer, J. (1971). Heider’s “levels model” of responsibility attribution. Paper presented at Symposium on Attribution of Responsibility Research, Williamsburg, VA, July 1971.Google Scholar
  105. Taylor, S. E., & Crocker, J. (1981). Schematic bases of social information processing. In E. T. Higgins, C. P. Herman, & M. P. Zanna (Eds.), Social cognition: The Ontario Symposium (Vol. 1, pp. 89–134). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  106. Thibaut, J. W., & Riecken, H. W. (1955). Some determinants and consequences of the perception of social causality. Journal of Personality, 24, 113–133.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  107. Tversky, A., & Kahneman, D. (1973). Availability: A heuristic for judging frequency and probability. Cognitive Psychology, 5, 207–232.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  108. Van Duyne, R (1987). Simple decision making. In D. C. Pennington & S. L. Bostock. The psychology of sentencing (pp. 143–158). Oxford, U.K.: Centre for Social-Legal Studies.Google Scholar
  109. Vidmar, N. (1971). Effects of decision alternatives on the verdicts and social perceptions of simulated jurors. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 22, 211–218.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  110. Walster, W. (1966). Assignment of responsibility for an accident. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 3, 73–19.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  111. Weaver, E M., & Carroll, J. S. (1985). Crime perceptions in a natural setting by expert and novice shoplifters. Social Psychology Quarterly, 48, 349–359.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  112. Wilkins, L. T., Gottfredson, D. M., Robison, J. P., & Sadowsky, A. (1973). Information selection and use in parole decision making. Supplemental Report Five, National Council on Crime and Delinquency Research Center, Davis, CA.Google Scholar
  113. Winick, C. (1979). The psychology of the courtroom. In H. Toch (Ed.), Psychology of crime and criminal justice (pp. 18–37). New York: Holt, Rinehart, Winston.Google Scholar
  114. Yankelovich, B. Skelly, J., & White, T. (1980). Sentencing goals and their application in the federal courts. Yankelovich, Skelly, & White, Inc., Washington, DC.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1994

Authors and Affiliations

  • Arthur J. Lurigio
    • 1
  • John S. Carroll
    • 2
  • Loretta J. Stalans
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of Criminal JusticeLoyola University of ChicagoChicagoUSA
  2. 2.Sloan School of ManagementMassachusetts Institute of TechnologyCambridgeUSA
  3. 3.Department of Criminal JusticeGeorgia State UniversityAtlantaUSA

Personalised recommendations