CrimProf Blog

Editor: Kevin Cole
Univ. of San Diego School of Law

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

CSI: Anchorage -- great expectations

3593727661_highlight_prod_affiliate Police, frustrated by an uncooperative suspect, get a court order for his DNA. They throw on a pot of coffee, and, before the first cup is gone, the lab has results: a perfect match to the atom-sized sample collected at the crime scene. A full confession will be coming right after these messages.Too bad it's not that easy in real life. Ideally, forensic scientists would test every fiber, every drop of blood they find at a crime scene. But if they did, it would be all they did. A DNA case, for example, can take up to 60 days to close because of the screening, extraction and replication process -- a far cry from TV-land testing.

Still, television-educated jurors are increasingly demanding impeccable evidence before they'll lock someone up. It's the so-called "CSI" effect -- juries that are overly reliant on physical evidence, thinking state-of-the-art science offers investigators nearly magical abilities to solve any crime.

"The 'CSI' effect is a real phenomenon in the courtroom," said Anchorage District Attorney Adrienne Bachman. "(A jury's) expectations might be too high in a given case -- that's certainly a possibility -- but that's something that prosecutors have to face head-on. We can't ignore it or avoid it."

Its effects have influenced all aspects of the criminal case, from selecting the jury to deciding which witnesses to question.

"Juries are so impressed with scientific evidence," said Rex Butler, a prominent Anchorage defense attorney. "And, of course, scientific evidence is so much harder to challenge than the statements of witnesses and things of that nature." [Mark Godsey]

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