Media and the Criminal Justice System
41 Pages Posted: 29 Jun 2010
Date Written: June 29, 2010
People are influenced by what they see on television. With this in mind, legal scholars and criminal justice practitioners have begun to express concern that the discrepancy between how the justice system operates and how it is portrayed in popular media has hindered the system’s ability to function effectively. This interference has been coined the “CSI effect”; specifically, the use of forensic technology in crime dramas such as “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” has limited prosecutors’ ability to obtain a conviction without DNA or other forensic evidence. Combining data on television viewing habits, convictions in state and federal courts, and capacity measures of publically funded forensics labs, I present evidence that these anecdotal concerns have merit, although the CSI effect primarily affects conviction rates through plea bargaining. I estimate that on average, increases in CSI popularity were weakly correlated with increases in conviction rates in federal and state court. However, in jurisdictions with small or unproductive forensic labs, the direction of the effect reverses.
Keywords: media, decision making, criminal convictions
JEL Classification: K40, D83
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation