Combating the CSI Effect

Jul 27, 2018 4:00:00 AM / by Allison Sanders Mintz

great leadership

Prosecutors love it. Defense attorneys are sometimes challenged by it.  The CSI Effect theorizes that popular television shows such as CSI, NCIS and Forensic Files make jurors expect more evidence than what is actually needed to prove a defendant’s guilt. This is because in the space of less than an hour after a crime is committed, the police and forensic scientists investigate using the “latest technology”, the suspect(s) goes to trial and is convicted. In reality, a criminal case takes much longer and not every piece of evidence collected will be a case breaker. Moreover, not all the technology we see on TV exists even if it did, it does not mean that the particular lab has that piece of technology. While a debate surrounds the CSI Effect with some studies discrediting it over 60% of defense lawyers and more importantly, over 70% of judges believed that jurors had unrealistic expectations when it came to forensic evidence. While the reasons for this are many, one reason is the prevalence of forensic television shows.

If There is an Effect How Can it Be Overcome?

  • Ask jurors during Voir Dire about their TV viewing habits; and how they think the evidence is actually collected and analyzed in real life. This way, you can see if the jurors can think for themselves and will actually be able to analyze the case on its merits.
  • Have mock trial ahead of time to help you anticipate and fix any issues related to the effect. Or, have an expert look for issues. If you do not want your expert called to the stand, make sure he or she will not testify and is only there in an advisory role. Even if you disregard the CSI effect, a run through will help you review the more technical portions of your case and how you can best present the issue to a jury in a manner they will understand.
  • Make sure your expert does not only relate to the jury by being, personable but can also explain why evidence is missing and why this doesn’t matter. Also, have them explain minimal evidence standards required for conviction.
  • Use technology. Even something as simple as a PowerPoint, a simulation or a reenactment can help. Nowadays, the use of technology in courtroom presentations is equally important as the technology and science that got you into court. The more technology you use in front of the jury, the less you may have to worry if your case is more circumstantial.
  • Pick an expert with as strong and long of resume of as your budget permits. A study conducted for the US Department of Justice, suggests the expertise level of your expert and how certain they are on the stand is pivotal. In fact, the same study suggests that the number of cases your expert has testified in plays a bigger factor then if their information is accurate and valid
  •   Tell the jury to look at your evidence as a big picture. In other words, explain how each piece of evidence when viewed in the whole proves the defendant's guilt.  

In summary, the information contained herein only begins to starch the surface. It should go without saying that each case will be different. Moreover, even if the CSI, effect does not come into play, using the techniques above, will help you be able to explain otherwise complex scientific matters in a way your jury will understand.

Topics: For Candidates

Allison Sanders Mintz

Written by Allison Sanders Mintz

I was born and raised in CA. I graduated from The John Marshall Law School where I worked at The John Marshall Veterans Legal Support Center and Clinic. I've always known I wanted to be a lawyer like my father grandfather. Prior to law school, I was a youth and community development advisor with the Peace Corps in Mongolia. I even brought my cat Frappuccino from Mongolia home to CA. I recently passed the Washington DC bar exam and am looking for opportunities in public interest or tort law. In my free time, I enjoy Toastmasters, traveling, and sports.

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