In today’s Academic Minute, Professor Liz Erickson of the State University of New York Canton reveals how the depiction of forensic science in television crime dramas has shaped jury expectations.
Liz Erickson is an assistant professor of criminal justice and curriculum coordinator for the criminal investigations program at SUNY Canton. She is a member of the International Association for Identification and a certified latent print examiner with the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services. She holds a Masters of Forensic Sciences from George Washington University.
Prof. Elizabeth Erickson, SUNY Canton – The CSI Effect
People often assume that police homicide cases should be solved in a matter of days after processing the forensic evidence. This belief can be attributed to the fact that all crime is solved in 60 minutes on television, with time allocated for commercials, and forensic results can be obtained instantaneously. Unfortunately, this is not the case in real life. This belief has transcended to the courtroom where jurors demand forensic expert witness testimony and an introduction of forensic evidence.
On Friday, October 6, 2000, the CBS network debuted a pilot episode of a new crime drama titled CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. The initial episode of the series had 17.3 million viewers and was ranked eighth among most watched television shows.
In 2002, Robin Franzen, a journalist discussing the implications of new forensic related programs coined a term called the CSI-effect. According to Robin Franzen, the CSI-effect dealt with the potential positive and negative effects experienced by prosecutors and judges. Since 2002, the CSI-effect has morphed into a more commonly accepted definition dealing with the perceptions of the public relating to forensic evidence processing and how this perception could be translated into jury demands at trial. Current public perception has been molded by all types of crime dramas, including CSI, Criminal Minds, Bones, Forensic Files, and Crime 360.
But, the question still remains, “is this CSI-effect phenomenon negatively impacting the criminal trial or is it producing a better juror who expects a case to have more direct and physical evidence to prove guilt or innocence?”