CSI and its Effects: Media, Juries, and the Burden of Proof
Simon A. Cole
University of California, Irvine - Department of Criminology, Law and Society
University of California, Irvine - Department of Criminology, Law & Society
New England Law Review, Vol. 41, No. 3, 2007
The CSI Effect, if there is one, should be a matter of utmost concern within the legal community. Is there a CSI Effect? How would we know whether there is such an effect? And what precisely is the CSI Effect anyway? This Article describes the popular television program CSI: Crime Scene Investigation and analyzes the distinct features of the show that have led some to claim it could impact legal behavior. It then describes the media coverage which has largely been responsible for claims that there is a CSI Effect. We note that the media has applied the term CSI Effect loosely and that the term has been used to mean rather different things. We propose a typology of six different effects, all of which have been characterized by the shorthand term CSI Effect. We argue that clarity over which effect is being described is crucial in any discussion of whether the CSI Effect is real. In particular, we caution against arguments which use evidence of one effect to support claims about another. We then discuss four types of evidence that have been marshaled in support of the claim that there is a CSI Effect - anecdotes, surveys of legal actors, simulated jury decision-making studies, and acquittal rates in criminal cases - and analyze the strengths, weaknesses, and current findings of each. We conclude that there is little support for the gravest of the CSI Effects, which is that jurors who watch CSI are wrongfully acquitting in cases lacking forensic evidence or that they are wrongfully convicting based on an unrealistic belief in the infallibility of forensic science. In light of the weak empirical support for the CSI Effect, we discuss some possible alternative explanations for the media attention to the CSI Effect. Finally, we discuss one of the most interesting, from a legal point of view, aspects of the CSI Effect, the claim that it has altered the burden of proof. We will argue that courts have correctly concluded that there is no legal merit to this argument, but we will use the argument as a clue that helps us posit another possible explanation for the CSI Effect phenomenon.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 36
Keywords: CSI effect, forensic science, burden of proof, reasonable doubt, media, juries
Date posted: October 30, 2007
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