ARTICLE
Altering Attention in Adjudication
Jeffrey J. Rachlinski, Andrew J. Wistrich, and Chris Guthrie* 
60 UCLA L. Rev. 1586

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Abstract

Judges decide complex cases in rapid succession but are limited by cognitive constraints. Consequently judges cannot allocate equal attention to every aspect of a case. Case outcomes might thus depend on which aspects of a case are particularly salient to the judge. Put simply, a judge focusing on one aspect of a case might reach a different outcome than a judge focusing on another. In this Article, we report the results of a series of studies exploring various ways in which directing judicial attention can shape judicial outcomes. In the first study, we show that judges impose shorter sentences when information concerning the cost of incarceration is made available to them. In the second study, we demonstrate that judges assess the credibility of expert witnesses more favorably when lawyers present an additional expert with similar, albeit notably weaker, credentials. In the third study, we show that the format in which prosecutors present forensic testimony can alter judges’ assessments of that testimony’s probative value. Finally, in the fourth study, we demonstrate that judges’ willingness to ignore inadmissible evidence in a criminal case is affected by both the gravity of the crime and the severity of the police misconduct. In each of these studies, varying the context in which judges review evidence or altering the form in which that evidence is presented shifts judges’ attention and alters their decisions.


* Jeffrey J. Rachlinski is a professor of law at Cornell Law School; Andrew J. Wistrich is a magistrate judge in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California; and Chris Guthrie is the Dean of Vanderbilt Law School.

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