December 28, 2004


I borrowed some CSI episodes from a friend, and I'm about overdosed on the show. Last night I spilled a squirt of lotion and my immediate thought was that it would really confuse forensic experts. I need to get out more.

However, in watching the show, I started wondering if the popularity of shows like CSI or Law & Order has had an impact on jurors. And apparently it has; there's even a name for it: "the CSI effect"...

But the programs also foster what analysts say is the mistaken notion that criminal science is fast and infallible and always gets its man. That's affecting the way lawyers prepare their cases, as well as the expectations that police and the public place on real crime labs. Real crime-scene investigators say that because of the programs, people often have unrealistic ideas of what criminal science can deliver.

I wonder about the effect of high expectations. I know that I personally have read articles about the unreliability of witnesses, even in classes such as neurolinguistics. I'd be skeptical of any witness testimony. Too skeptical? I don't know. Perhaps. One mantra that CSI drills into the viewer's head is that people can lie but the evidence can't. I think that lesson might be in the back of my mind if I were a juror.

One thing that I have learned from the show, that I hope I never have to put to use, might be how to intentionally leave evidence. In one episode, one of the CSIs went on a ransom drop and kept leaving intentional clues for her fellow CSIs to find. Sometimes, when my mind wanders furthest, I think about that use of forensics.

Of course, my favorite Onion article ever was "Area Man Has Complete Prison-Survival Strategy", in which the man lies in bed and makes plans for what he would do if he were jailed. My imagination frequently runs away with me like that.

Posted by: Sarah at 03:19 AM | Comments (4) | Add Comment
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1 It's a well done series -- the C.S.O. and I are addicted to the original version with William Petersen -- but it does convey a sense of forensic omnipotence. Quite a lot of forensic undertakings are spoiled by error, negligence in evidence handling, or the biases of the investigators. Incidentally, those biases are systemic: they lean strongly toward producing a suspect and a conviction, not toward some abstract notion of truth or justice. Producing suspects and convictions is what CSIs are paid to do, and you can take it on faith that any young turk who enters the system but won't conform to the norm will be encouraged to seek another line of work.

Posted by: Francis W. Porretto at December 28, 2004 08:22 AM (MzH7h)

2 The confusion of TV with reality can have some pretty funny effects. I read that in some other country, people (local people, not American tourists) were complaining to the police about not being read their Miranda rights. It had to be explained to them that they weren't in America and didn't *have* any Miranda rights....

Posted by: David Foster at December 28, 2004 12:16 PM (4eeDD)

3 I have a sheriff detective friend: He said that he enjoys the show, but that it is so far out as to be unbelievable. For instance, the techs that gather the evidence don't run the tests (at least not where we are from). And the idea of technicians running around making arrests...well I guess it is good for drama. He also echoed what your article has said: when a major crime happens, people can't understand why it isn't solved in a few days "just like on CSI".

Posted by: LCB at December 28, 2004 01:08 PM (punKs)

4 The mere fact that a television program written, produced, directed and acted by paid professionals who know exactly what is going to happen is believed to be a true and acurate representation of life by enough people to have an impact on any jury scares the bejeebers out of me :-)

Posted by: Pamela at December 29, 2004 01:24 PM (E34Gm)

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