Debates about forensic evidence are not new in North Carolina. For a while last year, it seemed you couldn’t pick up a paper without seeing a story about the problems at the state crime lab and the State Bureau of Investigation. A major concern for defense attorneys was the cozy relationship between the forensic scientists and the prosecution team.
Prosecutors around the country have had their own beef about fairness: They complain that the “CSI Effect” has taken hold of Americans to the extent that the jurors now expect ultra-high-tech scientific evidence in homicide trials. If the prosecutors don’t provide that evidence, the complaint goes, the jury will let defendants get away with murder.
Defense counsel respond that juries are smart enough to tell the difference between fact and fiction. Jurors know that a death investigation doesn’t take an hour, with DNA results coming back by 20 after, and face recognition software confirming the identity of the suspect by quarter to.
A judge from Michigan realized that there was little empirical research to back up the fears about the CSI Effect. He put together a research team and conducted a survey of people tapped for jury duty who had not yet served. They got about 2,000 responses.
The survey asked questions about TV viewing habits and where respondents learned about the criminal justice system. The researchers also presented a variety of scenarios of criminal trials and asked respondents about their expectations for scientific evidence.
The results were surprising. We’ll go into them in our next post.
Source: National Public Radio, “Is the CSI Effect influencing courtrooms?” 02/07/11