There are many shows on television that are based on the study of criminology. These shows allow the viewer to become immersed within a world they otherwise would not be privy to such as NCIS, Criminal Minds, and Law & Order to name a few. These television shows loosely base their storylines on real life-crimes. In this paper, I will summarize the CSI Effect and evaluate if it is a legitimate concern. I will also analyze the impact the CSI Effect has on the courtroom and interpret what prosecutors can do to overcome this phenomenon.
The CSI effect is a “belief held primarily among law enforcement personnel and prosecutors that forensic science television dramas, such as CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, influence American jurors to expect more forensic evidence to convict defendants of crimes.” (Roberts, 2017) Prosecutors and court officials have expressed concerns in regards to the CSI Effect and believe it is real enough to create unrealistic expectations in the minds of the jurors. Prosecutors feel television shows give society a false sense of need when it comes to evidence. They fear a jury will expect scientific evidence in order to charge a defendant with a crime. This is not always possible, especially in a case that is circumstantial. “To combat this problem, many prosecutors try to lower the bar during jury selection by telling potential jurors not to expect what they see on television to be played out in the courtroom.” (Hoffmeister, 2011)
With today’s jurors wanting more hard evidence, prosecutors and court officials are able to see more clearly the impact this has on the courtroom. Not all cases have unequivocal proof that will point to the offender. It has long been argued this is a significant reason cases, such as Casey Anthony, were acquitted. The realization is that real-life is not as flashy and high-tech as television shows like to portray. Since prosecutors know the effect television shows have on members of the jury, the effect is being felt within the budget. An alarming number of tests are processed in hopes of finding something to use in courtroom to satisfy the members of the jury. This is causing an excessive amount of resources to be used on tests that may or may not be of any use.
There are some positive effects of the CSI Effect. Today’s jurors are becoming seemingly more knowledgeable in the area of criminal justice. They are more understanding to the justice system and what evidence may or may not be used with specific types of crimes. However, some prosecutors may still view this as a problem since some jurors may think they know more than they truly do. Another positive effect is the increase of interest for the criminal justice field of study. With millions of television viewers watching television shows based on criminology, they tend to gain an interest in the subject. Some may even decide this a career path they need to pursue.
Prosecutors have their work cut out for them before they even pass through the courtroom doors. They use evidence and witnesses to try and prove to the jury the defendant is guilty of committing a crime. There are plenty of reasons for the prosecution to worry about the effects television shows will ultimately have on a member of the jury. However, there are some ways they may be able to overcome some of the obstacles they face. The prosecutor can define forensics and give the jurors a brief summary of the use within the criminal justice system. This explanation will possibly clear a juror’s mind of the “Hollywood” style courtrooms and allow them to make better choices during the trial.
Television shows will continue to have numerous types of impact on the viewer and shows related to the study of criminology will continue to have a known impact on the criminal justice system. These shows continue year after year simply because the viewers become more and more engrossed in the information provided. This will ultimately change the way prosecutors and court officials conduct jury selection. They may need to change with the times and ensure they can have the juror separate truth from fiction.