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The CSI Effect
An Augusta, Georgia, television station recently joined in on what has been called by many the “CSI Effect.” Simply put, for many fans of the now numerous shows about crime-scene investigation and how it allegedly works, there is an “expectation” some viewers have about what is realistic and what is not when it comes to processing real crime-scene evidence. From older cases like the O.J. Simpson trial, which hinged on evidence the defense argued was contaminated at the crime scene, to the more recent JonBenèt Ramsey case citing the quality of crime-scene evidence, this reality of expectation the public has is a growing concern to criminal justice professionals.
The CSI effect appears to be most visible in the courtroom, particularly among jurors. Prosecutors are concerned about the CSI effect among juries because they may question why everything isn’t subject to forensic analysis when in fact not everything has to be. Equally, defense attorneys are concerned about the CSI effect because jurors may perceive the science of forensics as completely objective and totally accurate, thus ignoring the possibility of human and technical error.
Examples of the CSI effect include:
- A murder trial where jurors alerted the judge that a bloody coat introduced as evidence had not been tested for DNA. In fact, the tests were not needed because the defendant acknowledged being at the murder scene. The judge stated that TV had taught jurors about DNA tests, but not enough about when to use them.
- A murder trial where jurors asked the judge if a cigarette butt found during the crime-scene investigation could be tested to see if it could be linked to the defendant. The defense team had ordered the tests but hadn’t introduced them into evidence. Upon doing so, the tests exonerated the defendant, and he was acquitted.
- The fact that prosecutors are now being allowed to question potential jurors about their TV-watching habits.
It has been said that because of movies and television shows portraying crime-scene investigations, jurors are becoming more and more insistent on forensic evidence. If this is true, then investigators must ensure that all proper investigative steps have been taken during each investigation – whether forensic evidence is discovered or not.
Using the context from the excerpt and class material from Chapter 6, answer the following discussion questions in paragraph form.
Discussion Questions: answer the following questions to the best of your ability.
- Using our class materials and above information on the CSI effect, what do you think police departments and courts might do in order to address the CSI phenomenon?
2. What responsibility (if any) do you think the entertainment industry might have in portraying crime-scene processing as accurately as possible? Provide detail in your response.