Thursday, February 16, 2012

Is TV Effecting Juries?

When I was in High school a lot of kids in my Criminal Justice class at our vocational school were being influenced by media into going into Criminal Justice.  When they were asked what they would like to do in the field of Criminal Justice at least more than half would always say they wanted to be a CSI, just because to the television show.  Back then they thought that they could do all of the things that the CSI's did on the show, which we know that is completely untrue by being Criminal Justice Majors ourselves.  But a study that was done by the National Institute of Justice chose to test the theory to see if television shows have an affect on whether or not these types of shows have an impact on conviction rates of juries.  The study also was composed of other shows such as Bones, Cold Case, and Numb3rs.  They went to the ratings (which was base on data from 2006) and they saw that 70 million people watch at least one of three CSI shows, and another 40 million people watched Without a Trace and Cold Case.  One of the Commonly held beliefs that Prosecutors and Judges have is that juries have wrongfully acquitted people that were guilty because of a lack of forensic evidence, that most of these shows base everything off of and not just the facts and circumstances.  
                               "I once heard a juror complain that the prosecution had not done a thorough job because they didn't even dust the lawn for fingerprints." As one district attorney put it, Jurors now expect us to have a DNA test for just about every case."

This article was based off of a study that was completed in 2006, and was a survey that was administered by Gregg Barak and Young Kim who are Criminology professors at Eastern Michigan University.   They surveyed 1,027 randomly selected jurors and asked them questions based on 7 types of cases.  They were also asked to determine what type of evidence they expected to see in each type of case.  They were also given five choices on how they would find the defendant and how likely they would be to convict.  The surveys indicated that 46% expected to see scientific evidence in every criminal case, 22% expected to see DNA in every criminal case, 36% expected to see fingerprints in every criminal case, and 32% expected to see ballistic evidence in all crimes involving firearms.  

It was found that people who did watch shows like CSI did have a higher want for some type of forensic evidence in each of the cases than those who did not watch a CSI type show.  But they also found that CSI viewers.  But the study also found evidence that prospective jurors had a high demand for forensic evidence.  Another interesting fact was that based on the data collected jurors were more likely to find a defendant guilty than not guilty even without scientific evidence.  So in turn that means that television does not really influence jurors, the evidence showed that only 4 out of 13 scenarios had a higher demand for forensic evidence from the CSI viewers than no CSI viewers.  What they did find was that CSI viewers were more likely to convict without forensic evidence when there was an eyewitness.  In rape cases CSI viewer were less likely to convict if there was no forensic evidence available.  And in theft and burglary cases they were more likely to convict if there was an eyewitness or victim and no forensic evidence.  The CSI effect is not as real as we would like to believe and it was found that they are more likely to convict in only certain scenarios.  I thought this was an interesting article and it can be found at this link here:

Andrew Serena



  1. This was a great post because this is one of the biggest problems that the judicial system faces when selecting jurors. It is almost comical how much these TV shows influence the average citizen into believing DNA is processed by the next day and that every case will absolutely have some type of scientific evidence. Such is just not the case, and anyone who has any knowledge about court cases and forensics knows it is quite hard to find reliable trace evidence on a crime scene. Jurors need to be instructed before each trial about the realities of scientific evidence and the prevalence of said evidence. Jurors need to understand TV shows need to make these misconceptions because the actual trial process is long and boring, and the CSI aspect is very challenging and many times crime scene technicians are left with scant evidence.

  2. This definitely makes you wonder how many innocent people are put into prison because of expectations that jurors have. It is completely unrealistic to have reliable evidence in every case, and it is scary that many people outside of our major don't realize that. To this day, people who find out I am a criminal justice major start comparing me to the characters on TV and asking me which one I want to be. Being one of those characters is not realistic, either, because they combine so many jobs into one in order to make the television show work. I would love to be able to take fingerprints, analyze DNA, arrest the bad guy, and collect all the evidence all at once, but that just is not possible. Many people believe that those jobs exist and that the way our system works is the way it works on CSI. Saying this, some jurors have a false idea of what to expect when on a jury and they believe all evidence in completely reliable and what the prosecutor says is always true. Sadly, it is not that easy.

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  4. I have worked an internship at the State's Attorneys office. I find the CSI phenomenon so interesting because in many crimes no physical evidence (fingerprints, DNA, bodily fluids, etc) becomes part of the case. Its actually the exception to the rule when there is some kind of that evidence. The fact that TV shows can make people expect wowing evidence presents challenges for those trying cases. How are we supposed to reach juries if they believe they are already experts in the field from turning on CBS?

    There is a worrying blend of fiction and reality in the minds of Americans. I wonder if those in the media feel at all responsible for any miscarriages of justice that take place due to this kind of misinformation.