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January 24, 2012

Is There Really a CSI Effect?

Category: Criminal Law, Juries, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , ,

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One of the perceptions facing the court system these days is what’s known as “The CSI Effect”. With the large numbers of procedural crime shows it’s easy to believe that any crime can be solved by a few really attractive people in colorfully lit rooms, a montage or two, and then an indisputable revelation. Justice neatly wrapped up in an hour with time for commercials! The reality is far from this and judges and attorneys are given the task of handing down a judicial reality check. But is the high number of crime dramas really affecting the way jurors decide guilt or innocence?

Television’s Crime Fighters Make It Look Simple

The notion that a verdict can be influenced by a jurors TV-watching habits isn’t a new concept. It was once called “The Perry Mason Syndrome” back in the 1960s when the Raymond Burr crime drama was in its heyday. The resurrection of the procedural drama began with the original CSI in 2000 and there have been numerous anecdotal citations of unrealistic expectations from a jury and a rise in acquittals due to lack of hard scientific evidence and less weight placed on circumstantial evidence.  A study performed in 2008 seems to dispute this. A trial judge and two other criminology professors took a poll of 1000 prospective jurors before selection and determined that while their TV watching habits influenced their expectations of scientific evidence quality they were no more or less likely to disregard other strong evidence as well as a persuasive lawyer as a basis for their decisions. A 2010 study by the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee also suggests that, while there may be a correlation between crime show viewership and a perceived understanding of DNA evidence, there was no evidence that such viewership affected jury decision-making.

Science Doesn’t Always Make The Verdict

State and local budgets are increasingly strained and the time and manpower spent on criminal cases can be less than a jury (and the general public) is content with. DNA results rarely come back in a few weeks much less a few hours, there are storage limitations that mean keeping every scrap of evidence just isn’t possible and even the “best” scientific evidence presented at trial may not be a solid indication of guilt or innocence. When scientific evidence is not present prosecutors and defense attorneys must find convincing ways to explain why this evidence isn’t relevant to the particular case.

The Role of the Attorney

The bottom line is that defense lawyers, judges, and prosecutors should understand the fact that jurors enter the courtroom with a lot of information about the criminal justice system and the availability of scientific evidence. It’s their job to manage jury expectations and keep them grounded in the reality of today’s courtroom and out of the notion that any crime can be solved in just under 42 minutes.  Not counting two-parters.
Attorney Dan Miller has over 24 years of experience as a public defender, prosecutor and state trooper. He is first and foremost an advocate of his clients, skilled in all aspects of litigation from investigations through trial. You can trust Dan Miller’s record of service, experience and results in criminal defense and civil litigation.