The CSI Effect

Status: Fiction mistaken for reality
I've included many definitions of hoax-related terms in Hippo Eats Dwarf. One of these terms is the CSI Effect. I define it as "The belief that all criminal cases are solved using the high-tech, forensic science seen on TV crime shows such as CSI. Lawyers have noticed that the lack of such high-tech evidence can seriously prejudice a jury against a prosecutor's case. A manifestation of the if-it's-not-like-what-we-see-on-TV-then-it-can't-be-real mentality." And now the Star Tribune reports on a recent occurrence of the CSI Effect:

Dakota County authorities thought their felony case against a driver charged with criminal vehicular operation was solid. But jurors knocked it down to a misdemeanor, convicting the defendant of reckless driving instead. Then they told the prosecutor they were disappointed with the case. "They wanted to see a computerized reenactment," said Phil Prokopowicz, chief deputy county attorney. "It was something they expected."

The article goes on to say:

Because of the "CSI" shows, some prosecutors contend, more jurors believe every crime scene yields forensic evidence that offers conclusive scientific proof of innocence or guilt, almost instantly. When selecting jurors, Hennepin County Attorney Amy Klobuchar said, prosecutors are now trying to explain "that real life is not like a TV show ... and that just because there is no DNA evidence does not mean that there is not substantial other evidence sufficient to prove our case."

Entertainment Law/Police/Crime

Posted on Mon Nov 28, 2005


As much as I love CSI and similar TV shows, I pride myself on knowing the difference between reality and fiction.

For some reason, I find this story quite depressing...
Posted by Boo  on  Tue Nov 29, 2005  at  02:55 AM
Real life court cases are not like CSI. That's total fiction. They are more like Peoples Court, where a verdict is rendered during a three minute commercial break.
Posted by booch  on  Tue Nov 29, 2005  at  09:59 AM
Defense lawyers are going to eat this up. All they have to do is whip out their own hi-tech reenactment and blow the procecution away with "ohhh shiney"...
Posted by Craig  on  Tue Nov 29, 2005  at  10:31 AM
This has been a problem for quite awhile. I actually had to study the CSI effect in one of my crim justice classes. Life would be so much easier if there weren't so many stupid people...
Posted by Razela  on  Tue Nov 29, 2005  at  04:22 PM
Another effect of all those TV crime shows is that they give the impression that every crime is solved (in real life, most crimes are not solved), and that the police never tell lies or make mistakes (except for the occasional bad apple, who always gets caught and punished).
Posted by Big Gary in Gun Barrel City, Texas  on  Tue Nov 29, 2005  at  04:33 PM
Time to add chlorine to the American gene pool. We're becoming too stupid as a nation to function. Our overindulged children live in a fantasy world where everyone is a rockstar who makes millions an hour and the need to put forth any effort either thinking or physically is just to demeaning for them.

We are too fat and lazy to see the writing on the wall. Keep this up and it soon will be over. Adults who expect to determine justice by an animated CSI video show given them by their local underpaid prosecutor and when they don't get it put a criminal back on the street are too stupid to see the end results of doing stupid acts.

You actually have to think in order to ensure justice is done. The reason you are on a jury is to determine whether the person is guilty or not, given the evidence, not to sit there watching some million dollar entertainment production that cannot be supported on the minimal tax dollars you pay. Maybe the solution since we're so stupid is to start raising taxes. If we want the show, we need to pay the piper.
Posted by martinelli  on  Tue Nov 29, 2005  at  08:19 PM
Back in the '70s and '80s it was said the sitcom "Barney Miller" was the most realistict police show on TV. Even though I heard that fact on TV, I still agreed.

I agree TV and movies have given the general public a distorted view of reality. When I first saw CSI, I thought it was pretty good, until they dealt with a subject I knew something about. It was obvious they didn't know what they were talking about. I came to the conclusion they were probably just as far off about the things I didn't know about.

Read this interesting piece about modern jury selection on James Randi's commentary:
Posted by Captain Al  on  Tue Nov 29, 2005  at  09:20 PM
I noted in the article that there was some discussion as to whether or not there really was a "CSI Effect". It may just be that people want to have the definite answer, and not have to make a decision themselves. If it were as clear-cut as just pitting hard evidence against hard evidence, then we wouldn't need juries; we could just let computers calculate the degree of guilt.

On the other hand, it does seem stupid to insist on a video reconstruction of the crime; or for the police to insist on a DNA analysis of every cigarette butt on the side of a road. In short, I think that it is due to a lack of imagination and desire to think, rather than an expectation that it will be like a TV show.
Posted by Fawkes  on  Wed Nov 30, 2005  at  09:16 AM
CSI is a bit like Star Trek set in the modern day. The logic they use is sound, but it's not based on actual science, it's based on a plot premise. While the show has great actors and seems to encourage the respecting of scientists, it's obvious the writers don't do any research of their own.
Posted by Citizen Premier  on  Wed Nov 30, 2005  at  03:46 PM
"Back in the '70s and '80s it was said the sitcom "Barney Miller" was the most realistict police show on TV."

There was another police show in about the late 60s or early 70s that was extremely realistic, in that it mostly showed two officers riding around in their squad car, answering calls about lost wallets and barking dogs, but hardly ever really doing much of anything. Needless to say, that show no longer exists. I can't think of the name of the series. Maybe another reader out there can tell me?
Anyhow, I think it was closer to what police work is really like than any other show. Even on "Cops," which has documentary footage of real police officers, they edit out all the boring parts, which of course is most of it.
Posted by Big Gary in Langtree, Texas  on  Wed Nov 30, 2005  at  05:50 PM
I believe there's another side-effect of programmes like this, one that tends to pop up in online forums and places like Wikipedia and so forth; some people like to think of themselves as hot-shot lawyers, and conduct their online dealings as if they were Tom Cruise in "A Few Good Men" or "The Firm", complete with rhetorical flourishes, melodramatics etc. A lot of the hoaxers who appear on this site, such as Richard "Face on mars" Hoagland and the Weather Wars chap, they seem to think of themselves in the same light, piecing together fantastical cases out of ridiculous evidence, as if they were conducting a civil case.
Posted by Ashley Pomeroy  on  Wed Nov 30, 2005  at  06:19 PM
Were you thinking of "Adam 12"? It ran from 1968-1975 and was produced by Jack Webb, of "Dragnet" fame:
Posted by Ashley Pomeroy  on  Wed Nov 30, 2005  at  06:21 PM
Yes, Ashley, it was "Adam 12"!
Thank you!

I just couldn't remember the name of that show.

It was an amazingly realistic depiction of police work, with hardly any concessions made to entertainment value.
Posted by Big Gary in Terlingua, Texas  on  Thu Dec 01, 2005  at  11:26 AM
Don't worry, when the ratings drop from 10 million viewers per week (or whatever) to 8.5, the network exec's will panic and cancel the show (alla Regis from Millionaire). Just give it time, the show'll prolly be gone in a couple of years.
Posted by Sil  on  Fri Dec 09, 2005  at  08:44 PM
I want to be a forensic scientist and, I'm not affraid to admit, I do love the TV shows. However I have wanted to do this job before the show was put on TV and I know the difference between whats on TV and the reality of a crime lab. I have not only read books but have done internship at the local police departments lab and so I know what it's really like in most labs. Misinformation isn't the only reason people who think they want to do the job because of the TV show end up quiting. They don't realize the hours you have to put in, what you have to see, and that you have to do both field and lab work. I have heard stories of people quiting after a week or two. I feel bad for the people who can't tell TV apart from reality, because in a case where you put thousands of dollors into the schooling and then you quite the job, you will never get that money or those college years back.
Posted by Racheal  on  Fri Sep 14, 2007  at  04:54 PM
I work for a police department and it is amazing how many people start taking "CSI Courses" so they can be like the investigators on CSI. Most institutions say great (just as long as we get your money). The reality is most forensic specialist don't do investigations. They sit in a little room all day long processing forensic samples sent to them by police departments. For most major police departments it's on the job training. You meet the requirements to become a police office. Take the test to become an evidence technician, a police officer who bags and tags evidence for the officers and detective who do the investigations. Take the test to become a Forensic Investigator, which involves bagging and tagging for major crimes' Detectives and P.O.s Somewhere there my be a TV show like CSI department, I have yet to come across it. Just do your internet research on the places that offer those classes. Talk to the personnel department or personal relations department of the companies you would like to work for to see what their educational requirements are. Don't leap then look.
Posted by Jones  on  Sat May 30, 2009  at  02:04 PM
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