The Reality of Crime Scene Investigation. Part II: The CSI Effect in the Courtroom

Judge talking to a lawerIn a recent paper, Evan Durnal from the Criminal Justice Department at the University of Central Missouri listed common myths that are created and perpetuated by crime scene investigation (CSI) television shows and summarized the effects of these shows on the judicial system (1). In part I of this two-part blog entry, I presented Durnal’s four categories of myths about crime scene investigation. In part II, I discuss the effects of these television shows on the judicial system, including jurors, prosecutors, defense attorneys, law enforcement officials and the criminals themselves.

In his paper, Durnal lists four main categories of myths: capabilities, roles and responsibilities, evidence and schedule. These myths all influence jurors’ expectations in the courtroom and affect the roles, responsibilities and tactics of judges, attorneys and law enforcement officials. Durnal describes it thusly “Nearly all definitions of the [CSI] effect stem from and refer to the impact that CSI and related shows have on the ability of trial juries to objectively hear testimony and make decisions without biasing those decisions on information obtained outside the courtroom proceedings”. He lists a number of examples demonstrating the CSI effect, originally published by Willing (2), including: Continue reading

The Reality of Crime Scene Investigation. Part I: Common Myths

In a recent blog entry about forensic phenotyping, I wrote “Much of the information in these [crime scene investigation] TV shows is not exactly accurate. (I have long thought that I should write a blog entry contrasting forensic DNA laboratories as they exist on screen and in reality.)” It seems that someone has beat me to the punch. In his recent paper (1), Evan Durnal eloquently sums it up: “With this new style of ‘infotainment’, comes an increasingly blurred line between the hard facts of reality and the soft, quick solutions of entertainment.”

Durnal points out the single largest gripe that many criminal justice officials have about crime scene investigation (CSI) television shows: the common myths that are created and perpetuated by these types of TV shows. Durnal lists four main categories of myths: capabilities, roles and responsibilities, evidence and schedule. All of these myths are well known (and probably frustrating) to anyone who works in a forensic laboratory. Durnal also summarizes the effects of CSI shows on the judicial system, including jurors, prosecutors, defense attorneys, law enforcement officials and the criminals themselves. In part I of this two-part blog entry, I will present Durnal’s four categories of myths about crime scene investigation.
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