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Keywords:

  • forensic science;
  • CSI effect;
  • forensic evidence;
  • Canadian criminal justice;
  • Australian criminal justice;
  • DNA evidence;
  • jurors;
  • juries;
  • judges

Abstract:  Television shows, such as CBS’s CSI and its spin-offs CSI: Miami; CSI: Las Vegas; and CSI: New York, have sparked the imagination of thousands of viewers who want to become forensic scientists. The shows’ fictional portrayals of crime scene investigations have prompted fears that jurors will demand DNA and other forensic evidence before they will convict, and have unrealistic expectations of that evidence. This has been dubbed the “CSI effect.” This phenomenon was explored using results from a Canadian study based on 605 surveys of Canadian college students who would be considered jury-eligible and Australian quantitative and qualitative findings from a study that surveyed and interviewed real posttrial jurors. Information about the way jurors deal with forensic evidence in the context of other evidence and feedback about the way in which understanding such evidence could be increased were gained from both these studies. The comparison provides insights into the knowledge base of jurors, permitting adaptation of methods of presenting forensic information by lawyers and experts in court, based on evidence rather than folklore. While the Canadian juror data showed statistically significant findings that jurors are clearly influenced in their treatment of some forensic evidence by their television-viewing habits, reassuringly, no support was found in either study for the operation of a detrimental CSI effect as defined above. In the Australian study, in fact, support was found for the proposition that jurors assess forensic evidence in a balanced and thoughtful manner.