How Crime Television Is Affecting Our Juries

by edschan on February 14, 2013

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How Crime Television Is Affecting Our Juries

U.S. News and World Report attribute CSI’s ability to garner 60 million viewers to the “sexy, fast, and remarkably certain” presentation of how science works in the crime field. According to Psychology Professor Tom Tyler, the most significant effect of crime shows like C.S.I. has been a higher percentage of acquittals. Jury members were so used to seeing the ‘hard evidence’ produced within a one-hour show that they feel like they need to see the DNA ASAP. In fact, lawyers in the courtroom will often address the CSI expectations in their opening remarks. They feel they need to lower jurors’ expectations for hard science and DNA analysis for every case.

How Do We Measure The CSI Effect?

Social scientists have dubbed the skewed vision of crime and science based on television crime shows as the CSI effect. It’s been difficult to fully study the repercussions of the CSI effect on courtrooms, but Washtenaw County Circuit Court Judge Donald Shelton and two researchers from Eastern Michigan University effectively studied jurors in the Ann Arbor area. In the study, one juror criticized a lawyer for not dusting the lawn for fingerprints. It’s not that the juror saw this technique on CSI, because it actually can’t be done. But the idea that technology could probably do anything one could imagine does stem from CSI-type crime shows. Judge Shelton calls this the “tech effect.”

Forensic Investigators

Why can’t viewers distinguish between television and reality?

It’s not that viewers can’t figure out that television dramatizes facts. In fact, the field of social cognition has offered a way of thinking about the CSI effect. They argue that it’s not that jurors are directly basing their decisions on television models. Rather, jurors are making quick associations from repeated experience of something, which can compound to create an “aura of truth.” So if one watches CSI enough, it starts to ‘feel’ true. Once these ‘truths’ become a part of the way a viewer thinks, those ideas easily transfer into the courtroom juror’s mind.

What Are The Positive Effects of CSI?

The impact of television on courtrooms can be detrimental, but there are some positives effects for the law world. Forensic science has experienced a boom in the last few years. It’s growing and attracting talented students who are contributing significantly to the field. It could be said that life is imitating art when it comes to crime drama.

How Do Crime Shows Ultimately Affect Courtrooms?

Shelton’s study ultimately suggests that crime shows have mixed effects on viewers. On the one hand, the shows make viewers pro-law, but on the other hand, these shows make viewers suspicious of law enforcement’s ability to fail. The idea of wrongfully convicting suspects is often portrayed on crime shows as the worst possible wrong that could happen in the courtroom.

Ultimately, crime shows are affecting the imaginations of jurors. Opponents of crime shows suggest that they’re filling viewers’ minds with unrealistic expectations, and these expectations are leading to many guilty perpetrators walking away from their crimes scot-free.

Chantel Leck is an avid blogger. If you have an interest in forensics and how real-life science is used in criminology, programs such as those offered at might be what you’re looking for.

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