Pretrial release judgments and decision fatigue

Ravi Shroff, Konstantinos Vamvourellis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Field studies in many domains have found evidence of decision fatigue, a phenomenon describing how decision quality can be impaired by the act of making previous decisions. Debate remains, however, over posited psychological mechanisms underlying decision fatigue, and the size of effects in high-stakes settings. We examine an extensive set of pretrial arraignments in a large, urban court system to investigate how judicial release and bail decisions are influenced by the time an arraignment oc-curs. We find that release rates decline modestly in the hours before lunch and before dinner, and these declines persist after statistically adjusting for an extensive set of ob-served covariates. However, we find no evidence that arraignment time affects pretrial release rates in the remainder of each decision-making session. Moreover, we find that release rates remain unchanged after a meal break even though judges have the opportunity to replenish their mental and physical resources by resting and eating. In a complementary analysis, we find that the rate at which judges concur with prosecutorial bail requests does not appear to be influenced by either arraignment time or a meal break. Taken together, our results imply that to the extent that decision fatigue plays a role in pretrial release judgments, effects are small and inconsistent with previous explanations implicating psychological depletion processes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1176-1207
Number of pages32
JournalJudgment and Decision Making
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 2022


  • decision fatigue
  • judicial decision making
  • mental depletion
  • pretrial detention

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Decision Sciences
  • Applied Psychology
  • Economics and Econometrics


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