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

Owens, Emily Greene, Media and the Criminal Justice System (June 29, 2010). Available at SSRN: or

Emily Greene Owens (Contact Author)

Cornell University ( email )

120 Martha Van Rensselaer Hall
Ithaca, NY 14853
United States

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