Should a judge do it's job or maximize overall happiness

post by ChristianKl · 2012-12-30T19:47:50.854Z · score: -6 (8 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 13 comments

John Smith is a head judge. He's living in a state with has a three strikes law. He personally doesn't believe in the three strikes law. He resides in the highest appellate court in his state. He's operating in a state without juries.

As part of John's job he writes down his confidence on whether a witness tell the truth whenever he's hearing an witness make a statement. He has an assistant that checks his results. John quite frequently is 99,99% sure that a witness lies. He was never wrong when he made the prediction because of his skills at reading bodylanguage.

In his private time he also trains his ability to tell whether people tell the truth in training cases where it's easy to determine the truth afterwards. He's perfectly caliberated.

He gets a court case where Bob is accused of bribing a lot of politicians in an African state. He's supposed to have given them bribes to drop a law that forbids vaccination. Bob himself claims that he only talked with the African politicians and they afterwards saw Bob's wisdom and changed the law. In any case Bob got the law changed and produced massive utility in the process. Bob also pledges to do other lobbying in African countries to get rid of very harmful laws in the future.

After Bob attempts of getting the law Bribing officials of other countries is a felony is Bob's state. Bob already has two court judgements against him so being judged for bribing would put him for the rest of his life behind bars.

Carol is a billionaire. She is supposed to have give Bob $100,000 for his lobbying efforts to change the law in the African state. Carol however claims that she only payed Bob $3,000 for his traveling costs in the process and she never gave him an amount of money that would be enough to bribe the African policitians.

Through his bodylanguage reading skills John knows that Bob and Carol are lying to him. One previous court thought that Bob did the crime, the second court thought that Bob didn't. 

John gets asked by his fellow judges on the court whether he thinks the two are lying. His fellow judges know of his impressive bodylanguage reading ability and fully trust him.

John swore an oath to fulfill the law. Should John break his oath and tell his collegues that Bob and Carol are telling the truth? Or should he tell them that they lie. John knows that telling his collegues that they lie would mean that Bob would spent the rest of his life behind bars and couldn't do any lobbying in Africa in the future.

How should John decide?

 

13 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by Alicorn · 2012-12-30T20:11:00.654Z · score: 11 (11 votes) · LW · GW

This thought experiment is a little more detailed than it needs to be to ask the question you're interested in.

comment by shminux · 2012-12-30T22:04:43.716Z · score: 10 (10 votes) · LW · GW

First, your post is overly complicated and without a summary upfront. This makes it hard to understand your point, whatever it might be. Second, consider running your top-level posts by a native English speaker before posting.

Now, Bob is clearly not very smart, having been convicted twice for the same offense and still keeping at it. Carol's actions are less-than-believable, as a billionaire would have resources and counsel to channel her lobbying efforts in a legal or at least a more covert manner. Furthermore, judges do not act as expert witnesses. Fortunately, it is immaterial whether John is a judge or an expert witness. Lying under oath is in general a bad idea, even in order to save two well-meaning but hapless crooks. There are always alternatives to lying. An expert can decline to testify, a judge can recuse oneself, citing a conflict of interests or beliefs.

If your main point was about whether the means justify the end (consequentialism vs deontology), it has been discussed on this forum ad nauseam, I don't see what you are trying to add to it.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-12-31T21:44:20.268Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Would you apply similar logic to a police officer deciding whether to enforce the judge's decision? What about a general deciding whether to stage a coup against a democratically elected president?

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-12-30T21:29:29.762Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Given the expected long-term value of John's credibility about judging honesty, my guess is that "don't lie about my judgments of honesty" is a good policy for John to adopt.
Given the expected long-term value of Bob's limited ability to manipulate African law without getting arrested, my guess is that keeping Bob out of jail a little while longer isn't worth enough to justify violating that policy.
So given the forced choice you present between (a) lie to his colleagues about Bob and Carol's honesty, or (b) tell them the truth, I'd say John should tell his colleagues the truth.

comment by Mestroyer · 2012-12-31T04:11:59.954Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

But if John was informed by his doctor he would die the next day, should he lie then? (I think so, and I think he should maybe lie in the first case too).

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-12-31T04:57:45.866Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

(nods) If John's long-term credibility becomes a worthless commodity (as is likely if he's going to die), then yeah, the arguments in favor of lying get comparatively stronger. I'm interested in your reasoning in the first case, though.

comment by Mestroyer · 2012-12-31T05:41:22.284Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

He's already changed a law in one country, which probably saved thousands of lives. If in the course of doing at least that (maybe other high-utility exploits too?) he's gotten two court judgements, and one more should be enough to stop him. I think if he can be enabled to get away with ~50% more shenanigans before getting jailed, that will accomplish more good than an honest judge who can notice lies. There's also Carol, who seems to be a big player for good, and I wouldn't want the law (or just reputational effects) messing up her game.

John could maybe save his one big betrayal of the law for something else, but I doubt it will get much better than a decent chance to make vaccines legal in another African country.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-12-31T10:47:42.213Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Agreed that he's changed a law, which created massive utility. (No "probably" about it; we have Word of God on this. Whether John has any way of knowing it is a different question, but what we're asking is what John should do, not what John can know he should do, so epistemic state is irrelevant.)

And I suppose I can accept concluding that he's likely to create another 50% of that utility before being shut down. That seems to involve ignoring granularity issues which I'm loathe to ignore, but I don't seem to really care about that.

Mostly, your estimate of the value of having credibility as an honest judge (and to a lesser extent, the value of the class of judges having credibility as being honest) seems lower than mine, in which case it makes sense that you conclude that the disutility of risking that credibility isn't worth as much as I do.

comment by fubarobfusco · 2012-12-30T20:13:31.533Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

If judges — as a class — habitually followed their own consequentialist conclusions rather than the law, then statute law would not be very relevant.

comment by drethelin · 2012-12-30T20:42:14.404Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Not neccesarily: A lot of laws have very specific punishments and criteria, making the Judge a formality. If you refer only questionable matters to judges then the average law is still very relevant. EG, A speeding ticket doesn't require the interaction of a judge unless it gets contested

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2012-12-30T20:17:37.771Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Aren't a lot of laws about matters where the best consequentialist choice isn't obvious?

comment by buybuydandavis · 2012-12-31T23:51:58.449Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Should John break his oath and tell his collegues that Bob and Carol are telling the truth?

But he's not breaking his oath by telling other judges that court participants are lying. He's not ruling on a case. He's not acting as a judge. He expressing what he has every reason to believe is an accurate opinion.

The other judges may be violating their own oaths by taking what is in effect testimony outside the court room. One could argue that John is breaking his oath by participating in their oath breaking, but I'd say that's at most a second order effect.

I think you've made a complex case a multitude of conflicting values that aren't decided on a spreadsheet, but within a person's head. Different people will weight those conflicting values differently.

comment by Costanza · 2012-12-31T19:25:35.551Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

With regard to the general question described in the title, there's actually a huge literature. Just for example, Richard Posner's Economic Analysis of Law (and pretty much most of what he's written), and Philip Hamburger's *Law and Judicial Duty."

For what it's worth, in America at least, there is no "state without juries," but there are bench trials, for example when a criminal defendant waives a jury. In that case one -- and only one -- judge acts as both the arbiter of law and the finder of fact.

You only get a panel of judges at the appellate level. This hypothetical suggests that the facts have been addressed by more than one "previous court." But appellate courts essentially never review findings of fact, whether by juries or by judges of bench trials. Neither do they take new evidence.