Crime Scene Investigation: Understanding "The CSI Effect"

Programs such as Forensic files, Law and Order, CSI, CSI Miami etc may be hugely popular and thoroughly entertaining but they have created what is know in academic and professional circles as the 'CSI effect'

According to Max Houck, director of the Forensic Science Initiative, a program that develops research and professional training for forensic scientists, "The CSI effect is basically the perception of the near-infallibility of forensic science in response to the TV show,"

The main distortion between fictional portrayals and the application of forensic science in the real world is 'time frame'. It can take several weeks, sometimes months to get results back from the lab, however, in the fictional world of forensic science and crime scene investigation, results invaribaly come back straight away.

The CSI Effect in Action

It would seem that the CSI effect is most visible in the court room, particularly among jurors. Max Houck mentioned above, argues that Prosecutors fear 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, Defence 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 or technical error.

Writing for USA today Richard Willing outlined a number of examples that highlighted the CSI effect in action. These included:

  • 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 defence 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.
  • Click Here To Read The Richard Willing Article In Full.

    Does The CSI Effect Exist?

    Despite the increasing interest in the "CSI effect", it has only recently been subject to serious academic and theoretical scrutiny. A very important landmark in this respect is the research of Donald E. Shelton.

    Writing for The National Institute of Justice, Shelton wrote a wide ranging article concerning the "CSI" Effect, documenting research relating to such things as:

  • Claims and Commonly Held Beliefs
  • What Programs Do Jurors Watch?
  • Juror Expectations for Forensic Evidence
  • Forensic Evidence and Jury Verdicts
  • Juror Expectations for Forensic Evidence
  • You can download and read The CSI Effect: Does It Really Exist for free by Clicking Here

    Recommended Reading

    The CSI Effect by Katherine Ramsland

    Edtorial Review By Kristine Huntley From Booklist

    When CSI: Crime Scene Investigation debuted on television in 2000, no one could have predicted the impact it would have on the legal system. "The C.S.I. Effect" is used to describe how CSI and its spin-offs and imitators have made members of a jury think they are experts on forensic science and investigation techniques.

    In her second CSI-related book, Ramsland expands upon the scientific and investigation procedures that viewers see on the show. Using real examples such as the BTK murders and the O. J. Simpson case as well as episodes from the three CSI shows, Ramsland analyzes the ways technology such as the Internet and DNA testing are revolutionizing the way law enforcement apprehends killers and obtains convictions. Ramsland also looks at how a case can get derailed when eyewitness testimony contradicts the physical evidence or when the handling of the evidence is called into question. A fascinating must-read for CSI fans and anyone interested in criminal justice.

    See following link for more details:

    The C.S.I. Effect

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