The Legal Investigator The Legal Investigator, Vol. 36, Issue 4 : Page 2

forensics focus by Kathleen Cunningham This is Real Life, not C S I Is there such a thing as a “CSI Effect?” The premise is that members of the public who watch forensic-type television shows may have preconceived, incorrect and unrealistic expectations of the abilities and limitations of real-life forensic science. Jurors may expect cases to be processed as they do in the TV shows they watch, which is often distinctly different from reality. In some of these television programs, the abilities of forensic science are greatly exaggerated, often to the point of pure fiction. Crime-based television shows may cause potential jurors to expect cases to be conclusive with cut and dry resolution, usually obtained by the presentation of forensic evidence by the prosecution. Jurors may give forensic evidence more weight than is actually deserved because it is “scientific,” thus influencing jury decisions regarding guilt and innocence. The result could be an increase in wrongful acquittals and wrongful convictions. One concern is that the high expectations the public holds for conclusive forensic evidence will influence jurors’ concepts of what constitutes reasonable doubt, which again would affect their verdicts. Prosecutors have expressed concern that the public holds them to the high and sometimes unattainable standards set by the television shows. Some prosecutors believe that the CSI Effect has placed upon them an increased burden to provide complete and conclusive forensic evidence. The general feeling among many prosecutors is that a disappointed jury is a jury likely to wrongfully acquit. However, the CSI Effect has the potential to also cause problems for the defense team. Defense teams are concerned that jurors automatically believe what the prosecution’s “scientists” say. Jurors may be hesitant to believe that scientific evidence can be influenced by human error or other mistakes. Mistakes happen. The science involved may not be exact or accurate. Stephen Gustitis, an attorney in Texas has stated, “It is easier to explain away DNA evidence from the defense side, than to explain to a demanding jury why the police did not test for the substance in the first place. Consequently, the majority of times, the CSI Effect is an advantage for the defender.”(1) It is extremely important that defense teams not instantly assume that because forensic the legal investigator Attacking Forensics: “ 4 U.S. District Judge Nancy Gerter advises that defense teams “should vigorously challenge fingerprints, bullet identification, handwriting and other trace evidence and prosecutors should be prepared to show that it is valid.”

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