CSI impact on real juries studied

Anecdotes lead to Canadian research
Despite realism, show not actually all that realistic

October 18, 2005
Toronto Star (CP)

HALIFAX—It's called the CSI effect: juries find defendants not guilty because they weren't provided with the type of forensic evidence they see on television.

Their expectation that forensics is the elixir of truth is rooted in such popular shows as CSI and Law & Order.

At least that's the theory, and a group of Saint Mary's University researchers is conducting a study to find out whether the CSI effect is real.

"Professionals in the legal system, like lawyers and judges, are beginning to notice that it might have some important repercussions," said Veronica Stinson, one of the researchers conducting the study.

"They're noticing that cases they might have won 10 years ago that they're losing now because jurors are saying, `Where was the DNA evidence? Where was the fingerprint evidence?' This is all anecdotal."

The anecdotes indicate recent TV crime-solving has created a generation of forensics junkies who demand unrealistic amounts of scientific evidence when they sit on juries.

The study will try to first determine if the CSI effect is real and how that aligns with stories from the courtroom. If it does exist, Stinson, along with her colleagues Steven Smith and Marc Patry, will devise a seminar to prepare juries for trial.

Forensic science is not exact, say the researchers. DNA is hard to collect and can take ages to process. Fingerprints are often smudged and inconclusive.

In initial surveys, the researchers found many people believe forensic science is foolproof, and that no other evidence is nearly as good as DNA.