Before the Verdict and Beyond the Verdict: The 'CSI Infection' within Modern Criminal Jury Trials
55 Pages Posted: 3 Apr 2009 Last revised: 24 Jan 2012
Date Written: September 28, 2009
In criminal law, the term “CSI Effect” commonly refers to the perceived impact the CSI television show has on juror expectation and unexpected jury verdicts. This article coins a new phrase, “CSI Infection,” by focusing on the significant legal impact that the fear of “CSI Infected Jurors” has made upon the criminal justice system. The CSI Infection is the ubiquitous “It” factor that scholars cannot conclusively prove nor effectively explain away; however, practitioners overwhelmingly confirm the CSI Effect’s impact on criminal jury trials. The CSI Effect’s existence, the CSI Effect’s true or perceived impact on acquittals and convictions, and how to define the CSI Effect, permeates criminal trials. For example, litigators base their motions on the CSI Effect and build their trial strategies around the CSI Effect, transforming the legal arguments of trial lawyers on both sides of a case. Specifically, voir dire questions, jury instructions, as well as opening statements and closing arguments have been modified and correspondingly challenged on appeal – all because of the CSI Effect.
Moreover, the phenomenon has forced trial courts to address the evidentiary, procedural, and constitutional issues raised by prosecutors and defense attorneys who fear the perceived dangers that CSI Infected Jurors have upon the ultimate fairness of the jury trial process. Because of the controversy concerning the CSI Effect, judges now issue rulings directed at the perceived impact of the CSI Effect within cases and give special jury instructions regarding the potential role the CSI Effect plays in jurors’ decision making. This CSI Infection, undoubtedly, is creating a juridical migraine for trial courts about issues that were previously ordinary, yet have become increasingly thorny and multifarious considerations of procedure and constitutionality. There is no panacea to either eradicate the fears of the CSI Effect or completely alleviate its influence. Notwithstanding the CSI Effect’s presence or absence, mandatory due process requirements remain. This Article explores the cases, the experiences of litigators, the commentary of jurors, and most significantly, the trial and appellate court rulings on important constitutional and procedural issues. Scrutinizing these legal questions both “before the verdict” and “beyond the verdict” are essential to ensure that justice and fairness prevail over any improper prejudice or bias that may have infiltrated the American criminal justice system.
Keywords: CSI Effect, voir dire, juror expectation, trial practice, jury instructions, juror behavior
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