American Courtrooms Skewed by "CSI Effect"

Discussion in 'Current Events' started by apple2991, Feb 22, 2005.

  1. apple2991 macrumors 6502

    May 20, 2004
    Just read an interesting article about how TV shows are skewing people's perceptions of crime investigation and courtroom results--including that of police officers and prosecutors.

    From article:
    This seems a little frightening to me, especially people perceiving forensic science as "infallible". What do you guys think?
  2. wdlove macrumors P6


    Oct 20, 2002
    The problem is that humans are not infallible. If done correctly forensics as a science is a good thing. CSI type of scrutiny can certainly assist jurors to determine guilt or innocence of a defendant. The thing that should be important is a team effort in evaluating the evidence, so that no one person has the final say.
  3. strider42 macrumors 65816


    Feb 1, 2002
    Both sides have a chance to bring in experts to clarify the reality of the scientific methods. If the lawyers do their jobs, there's no problem. This is a much better scenario than people acting on gut feelings and what not. I don't see why people demanding proof is a bad thing. If there's something in the science that can be argued, simply argue it. That's what lawyers are supposed to do.

    Besides that, Jury's get it right a lot of the time, and don't rely on science for everything. Tkae a look at the Scott peterson case. There wasn't much science tying him to the murder, but a well constructed case got him convicted anyway.
  4. apple2991 thread starter macrumors 6502

    May 20, 2004
    I don't think the problem is that proof is being demanded. The problem is that forensics--like any other science--has error. Jurors, although told that the science report has a certain margin of error and needs to be taken with a grain of salt, apparently are skipping the salt.

    The other issue in the article is about police officers and victims/plaintiff's are demanding more and more forensic studies on more and more cases--cases in which forensics are often unnecessary.
  5. strider42 macrumors 65816


    Feb 1, 2002
    still seems like a non issue to me. If the lawyers prove there is a good chance of error, then problem's solved. Lawyers just need to do their job.

    I mean,t he same could be said about any evidence. The jurors always need to take it with a grain of salt, from both sides. If the witness got a deal, does that matter? Maybe, depends on the situation. There's nothing unique about forensics when it comes to this.

    I don't think the article goes far enough into saying how this is a good thing. In the past, when these sciences were new, juries might have been mistrustful fo them in general. We can be reasonably certain of their validity now, and lawyers get a chance to cross examine. I'm just failing to see a single problem with people being believing in science. OK, so maybe they have unrealistic epxectations about how fast results can come in and what not, but that's pretty easy to get across. Again, lawyers and experts just need to do an adequate job in the court room and the problem is solved in my opinion.

    and as for cases where forensics are unnecessary, I'll just say more evidence is better than less, especially when we are talking about taking away people's rights to live free by putting them in prison or whatnot. I mean , who's makign this call, the police who think they ahve a slam dunk and don't need extra evidence. That's absurd. The DA's who don't care? equally absurd. If there's something that's not necessary to test, then they jsut have to explain that. I mean, the defense lawyers are going to bring it up right? so cross examine based on that. or bring it up yourself. If people are thorough, there's no problem.

    The problem i see it is lawyers afriad of people questioning the evidence they put out. Sounds to me like the jury is doing exactly what its supposed to, pre-conceived notions about the limits of the technology or not.
  6. Daveway macrumors 68040


    Jul 10, 2004
    New Orleans / Lafayette, La
    My local news did a story on this effect a few months ago. Turns out a guy got out of jail b/c the prosecution could not verify the DNA of a leaf found on his car and the crime scene. :eek:
  7. applebum macrumors 6502

    Jul 10, 2003
    You forgot the OJ case - same thing. Not much science tying him to the murder yet a well constructed case got him.....ummmm.....oops....never mind. :rolleyes:
  8. strider42 macrumors 65816


    Feb 1, 2002
    I don't know that I'd call it a well constructed case when you've got an important investigator on tape making racist remarks, the whole glove not fitting fiasco, etc. I think the police may ahve framed a guilty man on that one. In some ways I think the jury did the right thing in the OJ case, and that the DA and police completely screwed up an open and shut case. But that's a different debate.
  9. applebum macrumors 6502

    Jul 10, 2003
    Ummm - that was my whole point. The science was there, but it was a poorly constructed case. I don't think science alone will ever be enough...there has to be good lawyering too.
  10. blackfox macrumors 65816


    Feb 18, 2003
    What was he charged with? 1st Degree Pruning?
  11. Applespider macrumors G4


    Jan 20, 2004
    looking through rose-tinted spectacles...
    I think another problem is juries expecting to see infallible forensic evidence. On CSI etc, we always see a breakthrough forensic find that ties the culprit to the scene. In real life, there's not always a convenient hair to tie things together.

    I'm on jury service next month. I'll bear all the things in the article in mind!
  12. tweakers_suck macrumors regular

    Feb 7, 2005
    Los Angeles, CA
    I work in the For Sci field, and have experienced the CSI

    'halo' effect. It is there.

    The problem is many-fold. For example, juries want every little piece of evidence tested. DA's want every piece of evidence tested. Cops want every piece of evidence tested. I don't mind doing the work, in fact I love my job, but shotgun approaches to casework are bad. The best method to approach a case is to not examine anything until everything is collected, then decide what is really the most important evidence to examine that will answer to most important questions - if at all possible. You tend to get diminishing returns if everything is tested. Some items don't really add much to the case, the time you spent analyzing it is almost wasted because you could have been working on items that can really help out some other case.

    I know of a case where a jury wanted a gun tested for gunshot residue :rolleyes: Talk about waste of time.

    The tv shows make it difficult all around IMHO. Juries expect science to make the case solid and concrete, and to do it in an hour. But most cases are not like the tv shows. If we had the unlimited resources, people and money, every item of evidence could be tested. The problem you have comes in placing value to that evidence. So what if there is gsr on a gun? You'd expect it to be there. Lots of evidence is asked to be examined, but when you look at the case background many times it is not very probative. But juries want it examined. If it is not, DA's want you to come to court and explain why we didn't test it. If we don't test it, the defense argues that the crime lab and police aren't doing all they can for the case and the defendent is really not guilty.

    My two cents worth. But I do love my job! Don't get me wrong!
  13. strider42 macrumors 65816


    Feb 1, 2002
    That was my entire point from the beginning too. Its not a problem with people expecting too much from science, its the lawyering. I jsut don't feel sorry for the lawyers who are scared of a jury that now knows a bit more about the science, even if they ahve some of the details wrong.

    Perhaps I misread your post. I read it as being sarcastic to my comments, implying that there was a well constructed case against OJ, and that the science is what failed. Apologies if I misread your statement.
  14. Makosuke macrumors 603

    Aug 15, 2001
    The Cool Part of CA, USA
    Actually, if anything, I think this new faith in forensic science is a good thing.

    The fact is that while science is, almost by definition, NEVER 100% certain of anything, when applied properly it's usually very accurate. The people on a jury, however, frequently don't understand this, so when a defense attorney gets the forensic scientist to admit that there is "some chance" that the test could be innacurate, they're not realizing (at least on a gut level) that "some chance" could be 0.001%, which by the standards they'd apply to anything else is equivalent to saying definitely.

    Just like how a cell phone record shows a call being placed at X:XX or Bob says that he saw Bill at the crime scene on his way home from work, there is a microscopic chance that the cell phone system may have had a glitch or Bob is remembering the wrong day or saw a person who looks exactly like Bill, but while we all know that we also know instinctively that these things are unlikely enough that we can pretty much ignore the possibility.

    So if CSI and its kin give people a bit more faith in good forensic science, great. If Bill is actually innocent despite the test that shows to 99.9% certainty he is guilty, there should be some other significant evidence to back that up.
  15. applebum macrumors 6502

    Jul 10, 2003
    No problem. I was using sarcasm, I was simply pointing out the very opposite though. Unlike the Peterson case, OJ's had good science but a poorly consructed case.
  16. Lord Blackadder macrumors G5

    Lord Blackadder

    May 7, 2004
    Sod off
    It's ultimately up to the judge as to what evidence is allowed in a case (although there are standards of course).

    I think that increased interest by the public in forensics is a good thing, but it is the responsibility of citizens to educate themselves about what is real and what is Hollywood. There are definitely dangers associated with thinking that forensics is a panacea that will always solve crimes.
  17. aloofman macrumors 68020


    Dec 17, 2002
    On a similar note...

    One of my family members has worked in an emergency room for decades and she lamented the effect that the TV show "ER" had on their work. Patients and their families seemed to think it was like the show, that they could stand next to the doctors while they tried to resuscitate a loved one, that miracles can be performed, and most egregiously, that CPR works often. CPR is a last-resort attempt to save someone that fails the vast majority of the time.

    And of course, the patients constantly asked them if they watched the show. "It's really good," they say. "Maybe," the doctors and nurses would reply, "but it's not real, it's just a TV show. They make stuff up for dramatic purposes." This always confuses them.
  18. ejb190 macrumors 65816


    Tweakers_suck - Great post there!

    I worked my way through my undergrad degree as a lab rat in the horticulture department. I had a run in with a professor who thought my results were in error and made me rerun the same tests three times. The truth was my tests were right on. It was his assumptions that were wrong. But until I managed to propose an alternative explanation to the problem that I could back up with proof, the prof was going to assume my data was bad.

    My point is this. People have this tendency to hold what they believe as right until you can show proof that they are wrong. We have this CSI/Perry Mason/Mattlock notion that in order to prove someone innocent, we have to find the real killer. That’s not what US law says. You just need “reasonable doubt”.

    I have an interest in forensic botany. It is interesting to me to watch the interplay between science and law as both continue to evolve and develop. As we develop new science and improve techniques the law has to accept or deny these methods. If I have an oak leaf in the back of suspect’s truck, can I really use DNA to match that to a particular tree in a park where a body was found? What is the chances that it is a false match? Who did the study of oak biodiversity to determine these odds? If the study was conducted in Indiana, does the data apply to a case in Ohio? Iowa? California? Does that bit of evidence really mean anything? And to expound on Tweakers point – would the leaf even matter if we found the victim’s blood in the back of the truck?
  19. gwangung macrumors 65816

    Apr 9, 2003
    The problem is that laymen think that science IS 100% certain; that's what the article is all about.

    The public has a distorted view of science; it sees science as it does religion, as having answers that are 100% infallible, 100% right, instead of the 95-99% right that it is (that's why we hear in so many creation-evolution debates that "evolution is only a theory", "science hasn't proved Darwin right at all"; it's a basic misapprehension of what science is all about). And when we get into the real world of evidence and science, that margin of error is throwing juries, convinced that they are that everything is either right or wrong.
  20. jayscheuerle macrumors 68020


    I was on a jury a couple of months ago, an armed robbery case in which we ended up hung. The judge interviewed us afterwards and cited CSI as being a problematic influence, where jurors expect "beyond a shadow of a doubt", not "beyond reasonable doubt". The judge and DA were both bothered because it was the kind of case that should have been open and shut. We had 2 hold-outs that wouldn't even listen to any logic-based arguments. They made up their minds and that was that.

    This was a case where the robber was pointing a gun at the victim's face from 3 feet away (clear look) and was found within 10 minutes, within 3 blocks in a desolate area around Christmas, where maybe 2 other people in the entire neighborhood were out on the street.

    I surely think people are getting dumber and less thoroughly informed, and yet are more assured of themselves and see themselves as smarter than older generations. Education through fictional television... wonderful... :rolleyes:
  21. apple2991 thread starter macrumors 6502

    May 20, 2004
    Gwangung, tweakers_suck, and jayscheuerle, I think you illustrated the point of the article very well.
  22. tweakers_suck macrumors regular

    Feb 7, 2005
    Los Angeles, CA
    ejb190, you're hired!!

    *And to expound on Tweakers point – would the leaf even matter if we found the victim’s blood in the back of the truck?

    You understand exactly my point. Lots of evidence can be tested, however, many times it is not significant to answering important questions. But you have to collect the items because you only get one chance.

    ejb190, need a job?
  23. jsalzer macrumors 6502a


    Jan 18, 2004

    But can juries understand that 99.9?

    If it means that 1 out of 1000 men would show up as a match to that DNA, that's an awful lot of other potential suspects. Five alone in my little town.

    But, boy, you tell me as a juror that the evidence is 99.9 percent sure it's me, and I'm an average Joe, I'm gonna assume you're leaving that .1 to cover your tail and that it really doesn't mean anything. If I'm me, that 99.9 percent sure makes me 25 percent sure we have the right guy.

    So, is that what "99.9 percent sure" means, or does it mean something else that would help me to raise that 25 percent? Do juries think this far, or does 99.9 = 100 in their minds? ;)
  24. GorillaPaws macrumors 6502a


    Oct 26, 2003
    Richmond, VA
    A problem I see with the "CSI effect" that has yet to be mentioned, is the potential for its abuse when the defendant cannot afford the costly expert testimony to counter the science done for the prosecution. The DA runs the most damaging evidence through a forensics lab and it sounds very official etc. but the defendant who has a public defender doesn't have the resources to examine any of the evidence that may prove his/her innocence. To me, the "CSI effect" has the potential to increase the "buying justice" effect that we see today, along with many of the other problems stated earlier. (Sorry, my post isn't very articulate - I've had a long day).
  25. dejo Moderator


    Staff Member

    Sep 2, 2004
    The Centennial State
    tweakers_suck, since you seem to have some experience in the For Sci field, maybe you can answer a question for me. I notice a lot on CSI that when the investigators start to examine an indoor scene, they tend to whip out the flashlights and start "spotlighting" for evidence. Wouldn't it be more realistic if they just turned on the lights? (Though not as dramatic, I'll admit)...

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