The CSI Effect – an Excuse?
Not guilty. This is the verdict feared by numerous prosecutors and they blame the increasing prevalence of this outcome on the popular show Crime Scene Investigation (CSI). Thomas (29) stated that out of 102 prosecutors interviewed, 38% believed their cases resulted in an acquittal or hung jury because the forensic evidence was not sufficient. Many jurors were also noted to question the lack of evidence like ballistic reports and trace evidence even when the terms had not been brought up during the course of the trial. This growing affinity of jurors toward presentation of forensic evidence is what many prosecutors have come to call the CSI Effect. (Tyler, 31)
The CSI Effect, as purported by the side of the prosecutors, damages the judicial system. There are many who claim it undermines the true nature of the cases presented before a jury leading to non-acquittal of numerous individuals. The demand for greater quantity and quality of forensic evidence is problematic according to Thomas (30) because, in real life, processing of evidence can take a long time, exceeding the due period for presentation during trial. Thomas (30) suggests that the show CSI presents a distorted image of how forensic evidence is acquired in the real world.
The CSI effect may well be taken as fact by many prosecutors. However, it is clear that there are not enough valid points to support the existence of the said effect in the general population of jurors. Also, it is faulty to assume that a single show can successfully and completely alter the verdict for a given trial. The CSI effect is not a sound scientific principle and should be, if it exists, taken as a positive development that will further education of the general public and encourage greater critical thinking on the part of the juror.
Although the supposed evils brought about by the television show CSI have been presented in the manner of a crude research study, the methodology and even conclusions of the make-shift survey are far from scientific facts. Tyler (31) insists that the study done by Thomas (29) was not sufficient as far as scientific studies go. It was merely a compilation of observations and anecdotes by a limited population of prosecutors belonging to the same locale. Drawing conclusions about the effects of a television show from a single study performed in this manner is not only impulsive but also irresponsible. There have been, in fact, no scientific and empirical research studies performed to confirm the CSI effect. (Tyler, 32)
Assessing the show CSI from a scientific and psychological perspective, it is said that jurors would not be more inclined to acquit in their verdicts but would, in fact, be more prone to convict. This is because viewers would be adapted to a mindset of closure, of “catching the bad guy”. (Tyler, 31) This indicates that there would be more convictions than acquittals if CSI were truly influencing the thinking of the jurors.
Should the CSI effect truly exist, it would only indicate that the public from whom jurors are taken are more educated now than they used to be. This is not something prosecutors should fear but something which they should benefit from. They are now facing individuals who are able to think critically about the facts and witnesses presented before them. (Catalani, 34) CSI has drawn the attention of many people towards science.
If the CSI effect truly does affect individuals composing the jury, prosecutors should be thankful because they no longer have to worry about jurors being swayed by emotional witnesses. Trials can be conducted on the merit of the evidence presented by both sides of the case. Should the evidence be insufficient, it is the responsibility of the prosecutors to explain why this is so. (Catalini, 34) The jurors need to be instructed not to employ CSI-like standards on the case at hand. (Tyler, 32)
CSI cannot be held responsible for failure of juries to convict a suspect in a given case. This has occurred many times in the past prior to the airing of CSI on television. Many cases have also led to conviction of an innocent party. (Catalini, 33-34) The true effect of CSI is not in the way juries have decided on a case. The real CSI effect is the public’s or juror’s realization that not all suspects are necessarily guilty and not all innocent-looking individuals need to be convicted. Catalini (34), a technical writer on CSI, says “If it’s such a crime to reinvigorate the cliché that defendants are innocent until proven guilty, as a CSI writer, I’ll happily take the charge.”
It is evident that the CSI effect is still a premature concept that requires much research before it can be accepted as a fact. Allegations about the influence CSI has had on juries are still largely unfounded. Shows like CSI need to be acknowledged for spreading an eagerness to understand science as well as education about forensic techniques truly used in the real world. (Catalini, 33) The CSI effect, if it truly exists, is a positive development and should be embraced by the public as well as by prosecutors. It should be used as a tool and should not be dismissed as simply another barrier or excuse to achieving justice.
It is the prosecutor’s job to insure that justice is met. Whatever misconceptions the jury may have should be cleared up immediately by the prosecutor. Any evidence necessary for a conviction but which is lacking due to technical matters should also be explained directly. CSI, as a show, empowers its viewers. A single show should not be used as an excuse for prosecutors as to why guilty individuals were allowed to go free.
Catalani, Richard. “A CSI Writer Defends His Show. A Response to Andrew P. Thomas, ‘CSI Effect: Fact or Fiction.’” Yale Law Journal (2006). 33-34.
Thomas, Andrew P. “CSI Effect: Fact or Fiction.” Yale Law Journal (2006): 29-30.
Tyler, Thomas R. “Is the CSI Effect Good Science? A Response to Andrew P. Thomas, ‘CSI Effect: Fact or Fiction.’”. Yale Law Journal (2006). 31-32.