The CSI Effect: How your favorite TV shows can affect you
I feel like being a criminology student, everyone expects you to watch or have watched shows such as CSI and Criminal Minds. Am I one of those students who has watched all the true crime shows? Yes, and if I am honest that was one of the reasons I chose to pursue a criminology degree (how original, I know). I remember being seven years old and watching NCIS and CSI, and I would see forensic scientists and all the cool testing they did in order to solve a crime and I was like “wow, this is what I want as my career”. However, when I was watching these shows I did not realize that they were having an effect on me, in a negative way. Everything you see on TV isn't true!! What? I know it's shocking, isn’t it? It is not like a TV show will make everything seem more appealing and dramatic than what actually happens in the real world…..
CSI and true-crime TV shows provide an unrealistic view of the real-world capabilities of current forensic testing and overvalue the importance of forensic evidence (Wise, 2010). These shows lead to unrealistic expectations of forensic science since members of the CSI team collect evidence, process all the evidence, question, interrogate suspects, carry out search warrants and testify in court, however in real life, these tasks are almost always delegated to different people in parts of the criminal justice system (Anderson, 2017). These procedures typically take days but within these shows, they are done in a matter of minutes. In addition, in every single one of these cases portrayed, the accused is guilty since some form of forensic evidence is directly tied to them, such as DNA.
Now you may be wondering, how does this affect me? Well, little do you know, but this is the CSI effect in play. I know it sounds cool, but trust me it is not and can have a huge effect in a court of law, especially in a jury. I want you to think of how you know a person is guilty. Forensic evidence right? These television shows have made us believe that if the DNA of an individual is found at the scene, that means they are automatically guilty. But, in reality, this is not the case and sometimes circumstantial evidence is enough for a conviction. However, this dramatization of forensic science on TV has led the public to have unrealistic expectations that every crime scene will yield forensic evidence and if no forensic evidence is present, that must mean the accused is not guilty (Anderson, 2017).
A famous case that has been linked to the CSI effect is the case of Casey Anthony. If you do not know the Casey Anthony case, I quickly recommend googling it. The only piece of physical evidence that linked Casey Anthony to the murder of her daughter, Caylee, was a hair found in Casey’s trunk. The issue with hair evidence is that the DNA test can only link the hair to Caylee’s maternal relatives such as her mother, her grandmother, and brother, but could not be deemed to be Caylee’s. Due to this, no other evidence such as DNA or fingerprints were found, leading the jury to believe that Casey was not guilty due to the lack of physical evidence (Anderson, 2017). However, in this case, there was a lot of circumstantial evidence linking Casey to the death of her daughter, such as the fact she did not report her daughter missing for over a month and that coffin flies were found in the trunk of her car (coffin flies only feed on dead bodies).
Overall, I hope that I have been able to educate you on the CSI effect and how your favorite true crime shows can affect you. If you are ever a jury member, just remember to block out what you have seen on TV, remember that physical evidence is not always a factor in a case, and to look at the direct facts that are right in front of you.
Anderson, G. (2017) PEARSON COLL FORENSIC SCIENCES SIMON FRASER U, 1/e ISBN:9781323680179
Wise, J. (2010). Providing the CSI treatment: Criminal justice practitioners and the CSI effect. Current Issues in Criminal Justice, 21(3), 383-399.