The CSI effect

Here is an extract from the IrishTimes.com (19 August 2009, article by Bernice Harrison):
“It’s thanks to CSI that millions of us fancy ourselves as forensics experts. DNA profiling, blood spatter patterns, latent prints – who couldn’t throw a bit of forensic banter into a conversation and, after nine years of the mega-hit TV series, there can’t be many viewers who wouldn’t be quietly confident of nabbing the baddie if let loose on a crime scene.

Unusually for a science-based programme, it’s glamorous, too. Every week – and without a thought for scene contamination (see, we’re all experts) – forensic investigator Catherine Willows swishes her fabulous red hair over dead bodies, dropping follicles into crucial evidence as she goes and Nick Stokes, her beefcake sidekick, wouldn’t be seen dead in one of those deeply unflattering one-piece paper suits worn by crime scene guys in the real world. But who cares, when even the trickiest murder is solved at the end of the programme?

It’s not so popular in court rooms, however; a phenomenon called “the CSI effect” has been wryly noted, whereby CSI -savvy jurors have an unreasonably high expectation of what forensic evidence can prove. After all, if slightly creepy CSI boss Gil Grissom and his team can work their science magic, week in, week out, on the murdered in Las Vegas, surely it can’t be that difficult.”

I wish I could say that the CSI effect isn’t real, but it is. I recall being asked by instructing Defence Counsel at court in England a few years ago if my job was like CSI. To be honest, I was a bit surprised to hear him ask this question (and he was serious), given that I was attending some dingy Magistrates’ Court for a recidivist drink driver and also given that Counsel was a criminal law specialist. I shouldn’t be surprised because it’s still by far the most commonly asked question I hear. I usually just answer Yes, but with less lipstick, fewer dead bodies and more paperwork…..

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