Prosecutors and Psychics on the Air: Does a 'Psychic Detective Effect' Exist?
IN LAW AND JUSTICE ON THE SMALL SCREEN, Jessica Silbey and Peter Robson, eds., Hart Publishing, Forthcoming
Posted: 5 Aug 2011
Date Written: July 27, 2011
With this essay I begin an examination of the effect and influence of psychics and psychic detectives on the legal system and popular culture. Scripted shows such as the popular Medium and the recently cancelled Ghost Whisperer enhance the personal accounts of the psychic detectives on whom they are based, adapting interesting characteristics and stories, and creating entertainment for viewers. Psychic detective shows such as the reality shows Psychic Detectives, Psychic Witness, and the new series Paranormal Cops provide an alternative to the popular crime scene investigation (CSI) shows as a way to provide a window into the legal system for America’s TV audience. The CSI shows rely on experts and an exciting array of scientific tools, suggesting that scientific evidence often can be so conclusive that the prosecutor in criminal cases can satisfy the “reasonable doubt” standard with no problem. Psychic detective shows seem to present investigative television that appeals to those interested in the spiritual and the unknown and offer a contrast to the certain outcomes of CSI shows by posing questions that seem closer to the realities with which many viewers are more likely to be familiar through their newspaper and tv experiences. Sometimes juries or judges acquit defendants even though they seem to be guilty or convict them though they seem innocent. Some members of the public think they have paranormal experiences and regularly go to psychics. Many people read newspaper horoscopes, even if only for entertainment, and love the inserts in their Chinese fortune cookies.
Further, such shows emphasize what many viewers may consider to be the fallible side of the legal system, playing on existing viewer fears that defense attorneys with their “tricks” can overwhelm prosecutors and juries. These fears include those that arise out of the impression that constitutional guarantees such as those embedded in the Fifth, Sixth, and Fourteenth Amendments are “loopholes” or “technicalities,” which function solely to give the accused far too many rights at the expense of the victim and his or her family. Linked to that fear is the idea that the police may arrest the wrong person or fail to solve crimes altogether. In conjunction with a news media which deluges viewers with stories about cold cases are horror stories about criminals inexplicably allowed to go free who then commit additional crimes, killers never caught and the suspicion that innocent persons may spend years in prison or may well be executed, such “psychic detective” shows present a convenient solution to what seems to some to be an insoluble and horrific dilemma.
Keywords: Law and Popular Culture, Law and Film, Psychics, Criminal Law, Criminal Procedure
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