Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Is There a CSI Effect on Juries?

A recent study in the National Institute of Justice Journal casts serious doubt on at least part of what is feared as the CSI effect.

The biggest fear engendered by the perceived CSI effect is the fear that if there is not enough scientific evidence in a given case the jury (versed in the CSI way of investigating cases) will acquit on that basis alone.

This is a major concern because as many as 30 million folks watch CSI on a given night. Over 100 million folks watch CSI and similar criminal case shows in a given week. That is a lot of folks.

One interesting point that came up in the study is that the more individuals watch CSI and similar shows the more “real” they felt those shows to be. I don’t know if they watch them because they feel that they are “real” or if the watching convinces the individuals that they are “real” portrayals. Either way TV shows are TV shows, more entertainment than reality and we ought to keep reminding folks of that fact.

The study found that while CSI viewers had higher expectations of scientific evidence, at least in discussions of possible court trial scenarios, that did not result in acquittals in cases where that evidence was lacking. The biggest factor in decision making seemed to be the testimony of the victim or other witnesses, just like in the old days.

Nonetheless, while anecdotal evidence is not very good evidence, there are enough stories (and I have had a few experiences at inquest) that more research needs to be done before we can put to rest all of our fears of the CSI effect on juries. We, as a people, also need to do better at separating fact from fiction when we watch anything on TV. Just because you see it on TV, it doesn’t make it so.

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