Friday, March 25, 2005

The C.S.I. Effect

After actor Robert Black was found not guilty of murdering his wife, Los Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley had a meltdown, calling the jury "incredibly stupid" and blaming the outcome on the "C.S.I. Effect."

Prosecutors across the country are complaining that jurors, who watch C.S.I. (and the spinoffs, C.S.I.: Miami and C.S.I.: New York) see a rich array of evidence, infallable investigators and cases that are quickly wrapped up in an hour, causing them to have unrealistic expectations in courtrooms.

"Jurors now expect us to have a DNA test for just about every case," laments Oregon District Attorney Josh Marquis. "They expect us to have the most advanced technology possible, and they expect it to look like it does on television." This district attorney works in the small Oregon town of Astoria. The nearest forensic lab is hours away. Beth Carpenter, who's with the Oregon Crime Lab, says there are expectations well beyond what the reality is, and that has increased the workload quite a bit.

Former prosecutor Wendy Murphy, a CBS News consultant, says "The CSI Effect" is real, and an impediment: "When 'CSI' trumps common sense, then you have a systemic problem. The National District Attorneys Association is deeply concerned about the effect of 'CSI.' " Murphy points out, "This has been a bit of a problem even before the onset of DNA, and shows like 'CSI.' You get jurors who don't have a lot of brain cells asking questions after the case is over about why there weren't any fingerprints on the pillow case. Of course, that makes no sense. "But once you get the influence of 'CSI,' what they start to expect is not only a lot of forensic evidence, but that this one missing piece would have told them the truth. That's just not reality."

In Dane County, WI, Judge Stuart Schwartz reads a special letter to jurors, warning them that this is not TV, he won't be acting like the judges they see on TV and that they might not see a confession or DNA evidence.

As for the Blake case...

"The prosecutor took the approach of, 'We don't need the DNA, we don't need the eyewitness, we've got the big picture here, and if you look at the big picture, who had the motive, who had the opportunity, who acted strangely, who wanted his wife dead -- it was Robert Blake,' " says Loyola Law School Professor Laurie Levensen, a former federal prosecutor.

Some, including C.S.I. creator Anthony E. Zuiker, think this is a good thing. Zuiker says, 'The CSI Effect' is, in my opinion, the most amazing thing that has ever come out of the series. For the first time in American history, you're not allowed to fool the jury anymore."

And sometimes the good guys win...

While we're on the subject, Quentin Tarentino will direct the season finale of C.S.I. which is being called "Kill Gill."

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