Criminal sentencing by preferred numbers

Dhami, Mandeep K. ORCID logoORCID:, Belton, Ian, Merrall, Elizabeth, McGrath, Andrew and Bird, Sheila M. (2020) Criminal sentencing by preferred numbers. Journal of Empirical Legal Studies, 17 (1) . pp. 139-163. ISSN 1740-1453 [Article] (doi:10.1111/jels.12246)

PDF - Final accepted version (with author's formatting)
Download (1MB) | Preview


Criminal sentencing is a complex cognitive activity often performed by the unaided mind under suboptimal conditions. As such, sentencers may not behave according to policy, guidelines and training. We analyzed the distribution of sentences meted out in one year in two different jurisdictions (i.e., England and Wales, and New South Wales, Australia). We reveal that sentencers prefer certain numbers when meting out sentence lengths (in custody and community service) and amounts (for fines/compensation). These ‘common doses’ accounted for over 90% of sentences in each jurisdiction. The size of these doses increased as sentences became more severe, and doses followed a logarithmic pattern. These findings are compatible with psychological research on preferred numbers and are reminiscent of Weber’s and Fechner’s laws. Our findings run contrary to arguments against efforts to reduce judicial discretion, and potentially undermine the notion of individualized justice, as well as raise questions about the (cost) effectiveness of sentencing.

Item Type: Article
Research Areas: A. > School of Science and Technology > Psychology
Item ID: 28441
Notes on copyright: This is the peer reviewed version of the following article: Dhami, M.K., Belton, I.K., Merrall, E., McGrath, A. and Bird, S.M. (2020), Criminal Sentencing by Preferred Numbers. Journal of Empirical Legal Studies, 17: 139-163. doi:10.1111/jels.12246, which has been published in final form at This article may be used for non-commercial purposes in accordance with Wiley Terms and Conditions for Use of Self-Archived Versions.
Useful Links:
Depositing User: Mandeep Dhami
Date Deposited: 29 Nov 2019 14:56
Last Modified: 29 Nov 2022 18:35

Actions (login required)

View Item View Item


Activity Overview
6 month trend
6 month trend

Additional statistics are available via IRStats2.