Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The CSI Effect

The standard of proof in a criminal case is still "beyond a reasonable doubt." However, jurors who watch CSI TV may be holding prosecutors to an inflated conception of "reasonable doubt." Here is how the CSI effect is described in one media article:

The problem today is that citizen jurors expect to be dazzled when selected and seated for jury duty, waiting to be overwhelmed and over-impressed when the prosecution produces tons of forensic evidence and related scientific whiz-bang devices. When these “toys for boys” are not introduced, it’s like, well, “Where’s the beef?” Enter the CSI Syndrome.

Case in point. In a recent assault case a jury acquitted a man for the brutal stabbing of his girlfriend. The victim had survived the assault and testified against her assailant. She had been found in her own bed, the sheets of which were soaked in blood, but the defendant was found not guilty as the jury felt that the blood-soaked sheets should also have been tested for DNA like they do on TV, and not merely examined and found to simply have the same blood type as the victim. The assailant did go to jail for another crime, but when he was later released, he returned and this time he finished the job, stabbing the same woman to death. Prosecutors are learning that the one question they do not want juries to ask is “Why didn’t they test (fill the blank) like they do on CSI?”

In "Law and Order SVU,"  Olivia can often be found following up on results of the rape kit. In real life, shrunken budgets (it costs about $1,500 dollars per kit) and poor evidentiary support for a likely conviction keep many rape kits from being processed. Media reported estimates of un-processsed rape kits vary from 20,000 to 400,000 nationwide. Is popular culture altering the burden of proof in criminal cases so as to make it unattainable?  Let's hope there are alternatives.

News report on the CSI syndrome:  ("It's costing taxpayers money!" Yeah, and it's also skewing the legal system - but I guess the money angle is sexier than burden of proof issues.)

Defense lawyer argues, "no DNA evidence..."  (Click picture below to go to video) This case has now gone through 4 mistrials due to hung juries.

Rape Kit backlog in L.A.:

Call to Action:

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