We’ve been discussing the “CSI Effect” — that is, the strongly held belief that jurors are so accustomed to television’s forensic acrobatics that they expect real-life prosecutors to present the same type of evidence. Criminal defense attorneys from Raleigh to Portland believe juries are smarter than that, and a recent study confirmed that belief. It’s not TV shows that raise expectations in a murder trial; it’s iPhones and Blackberrys and other sophisticated devices that jurors use every day. But the CSI Effect myth holds on.
According to a National Public Radio story, some states have modified voir dire rules to allow attorneys to dismiss potential jurors based on the TV shows they watch. There have also been reports that judges are taking the time to warn juries not to expect CSI-level forensics from a case.
The author of the study disproving the CSI Effect had some disconcerting stories of his own. He said investigators in death cases will run meaningless tests in an effort to meet the CSI expectations. The jury will hear the evidence, because they expect it, the argument goes — even if the test results prove neither guilt nor innocence.
If all of this is true, the waste of human and financial resources is troubling, especially considering how many state and local governments are struggling to make ends meet. The budget situations are so bad that some states have stopped doing autopsies on suicides, traffic accident fatalities or people over age 60.
These are fairly harsh measures, to be sure, that only widen the gap between what jurors expect and what they get. When a committee of the National Academy of Sciences looked into the costs associated with bringing the country up to speed, they came up with a modest dollar amount. Said one member of the committee, “It’s going to cost you about $2.25 to $2.50 per person in your community per year, which is probably less than what you pay for a Coca-Cola in a movie theater.”
Source: National Public Radio, “Is the CSI Effect influencing courtrooms?” 02/07/11