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  • Queenie Lu

The CSI Effect

Updated: Mar 20

Do you have a favourite crime mystery show or podcast? I'm sure many people have or actively do indulge in true crime documentaries, podcasts, and crime and cop shows. Its popularity has peaked and it has concerning implications in the real world.

Because of widespread crime and police mystery shows like Criminal Minds, Forensic Files, and Law & Order just to name a few, we can easily be caught taking what we see in entertainment and media for reality. I know I love consuming these shows. They pique my interest and I find them entertaining but we have to remind ourselves that this is all it is. Only entertainment! Crime media like this are designed to show the rarest and most bizarre of cases or exaggerated versions of what actually happens in real-life criminal procedures, this way to attract more viewers, and thus revenue (but I'm not gonna go into that).

As you can probably guess, the CSI effect derives its name from the CSI television franchise which first aired in the 2000’s. They dramatize criminal investigative procedures, the technology used and available, and the power of forensic science. An example of inaccurate portrayal is when characters on shows will take a look at one single piece of evidence and instantaneously confirm a match with the perpetrator. In reality, forensic testing is slow and expensive. Additionally, many different types of forensic evidence have different testing methods and protocols. In every episode there is a complex storyline introducing the case and nearing the end, they use and portray forensic science like its magic.

Unfortunately, this causes the general population to assume that criminal cases will always have some type of forensic evidence available. This is untrue and many jurors in criminal trials will be extremely biased toward this. As in cases where there is evidence, the jury tends to favour the side on which it was presented. Because of this phenomenon, we can see that everyday people may not be the most equipped to differentiate or understand the complexities of forensic evidence. This can obviously cause enormous issues in holding a fair trial where jurors may over-rely on forensic evidence when they already have a general misunderstanding of it.

This means that jurors are more likely to exonerate or acquit someone based on any evidence presented in a trial. This even goes for evidence that is circumstantial, of poor quality, or contaminated and thus may lead to a wrongful conviction of an innocent or even a wrongful acquittal of a guilty defendant.

As we can see a single phenomenon in our modern society can create waves so large that it affects a population's opinions, beliefs, and knowledge about a particular topic. In the case of the CSI effect as you can imagine, it can affect people greatly when their lives and liberty are the topic of debate on trial. Although there is no ill will in watching these types of shows, we need to remind ourselves to be mindful of our consumption of media. It is important to distinguish between what is entertainment and what is reality!

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