February 7, 2008 By Jim McKay, Justice and Public Safety Editor
four hours in one case to discuss the tests that weren't done and why they weren't necessary. "Basically I did it because, if we didn't, the implication would be that we were hiding something or failed to do something."
And although DNA can be incredibly helpful in the right situation, it's not a magic bullet in every crime, he added. "DNA helps in a lot of cases, but there are a lot of cases in which it doesn't do you any good at all, like a consent rape case."
Useful or not, today's juries simply demand more forensic evidence, according to Susan Riseling, chief of police for the University of Wisconsin-Madison. And those extra tests increase costs and slow the pace of criminal cases.
"CSI has led to a test-everything mindset. When there is a lot of blood and you take, say, 35 samples at a scene, you test 12 and want to stop there, but the defense then wants to argue that the lab didn't test all 35," she said. "Blood spatters the same way; splatter patterns can have lots of samples, and labs test a percentage of them. These take time and money, and cases pile up."
Riseling calls DNA the new fingerprint. "When fingerprints first came into being forensically, juries wanted to see the fingerprint evidence," she said. "When there were no fingerprints, people doubted the person was really there."
Such a scenario may have played out in the 2005 Robert Blake murder case. A Los Angeles jury acquitted the actor because of a lack of forensic evidence tying him to the murder of his wife. That verdict prompted Los Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley to label the jury "incredibly stupid."
Life Imitates Art
Another potential impact of the CSI Effect is greater public attention on - and more appreciation for - forensics facilities.
For instance, the CSI shows may have helped Los Angeles County get a new $102 million forensics center that was needed for years and finally opened in September 2007. The popularity of the shows and the subsequent interest in forensic science, helped focus attention on the need for a better facility as elected officials decided how to spend tax dollars.
"[These TV shows are] really helpful because they keep the issue in front of the public eye," Fisher said, adding that the county's old facility was so cramped "you had to go into the hallway to change your mind."
Most real-life crime labs - even brand-new ones - look nothing like the gleaming facilities shown on TV.
"Today, the only familiarity the average person has with a forensics lab is it's this wonderful pristine, sciencelike environment," said Kimberlianne Podlas, an attorney and assistant professor of media law and ethics at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. The reality is, crime labs are cramped.
But Podlas, who has researched the CSI Effect, said there's nothing new about the public having high and maybe unreasonable expectations for crime-solving technology. "I kind of think there's always a tech effect going on, no matter the decade," she said.
With the justice system's acknowledgment in recent years that eyewitness testimony is often incorrect, the desire for more evidence isn't harmful to the system, according to Podlas. "I don't think it's a bad thing to have jurors out there who wonder, 'Well yeah, I am used to seeing people bring fingerprint evidence. You've got that little old lady who wears glasses the size of four plate glass windows saying this is the guy who stole the jewelry out of the case; I'm not sure I believe her identification."'
Foretelling the Future?
Perhaps the biggest impact of the CSI Effect has been to spur
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