Reviewing The Impact On The Criminal Justice System Criminology Essay


Forensic science shows have become very popular within the last decade, as police and crime shows have moved away from the masculine cop on the street chasing the bad guy to shows where technology and forensics help solve the case (Cavender and Deutsh, 2007), resulting in shows such as CSI, Bones, Dexter and becoming extremely popular. CSI was the first major television show to be based around forensics (Brewer and Ley, 2010), and was premiered in 2000, with the original programme being called CSI: Crime Scene Investigation and it quickly became a success in America, the UK and around the world, with two spin-off programmes being launched; CSI: Miami in 2002 and CSI: New York in 2004. Many other forensic television programmes have been aired due to the success of this kind of programme, such as Bones, Dexter, NCIS and many others. Although these programmes are a success with the general public some people fear that these shows are affecting how jurors see forensic evidence in court and therefore finding some suspects not guilty when they would have returned a guilty verdict if it was not for these shows. This essay will examine this effect, known as the CSI effect, on the different aspects of the court, such as the defence, the prosecution and jurors. The essay will start of by looking at how the forensics used in these shows differs to the forensics used by real forensic experts. Focusing on the 'fake' forensics in the shows as well as how the real forensic methods are altered to produce the result needed in the show (Cavender and Deutsh, 2007). The essay will then look at the six affects identified by Cole and Dioso-Villa (2007), focusing on the strong prosecutors effect, where the jurors are acquitting more suspect, the weak prosecutors effect, which is a response to the strong prosecutors effect, and the reverse CSI effect, where jurors are actually finding more suspects guilty as a result of forensic shows. The essay will finally look at other shows and media forms that depict forensic and look at how they affect jurors and people's perceptions of forensics.

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Forensic science shows have created a culture of assumption, where forensic science is not questionable but is a fact that cannot be wrong (McQuiston-Surrett and Saks, 2009). This can be seen in the way jurors and members of the public see the use of fingerprint evidence. When a forensic expert says that the print found at the scene is a 'match', or very similar, to the suspects print then viewers of forensic shows will not question the accuracy of the experts judgement, and will believe the experts opinion to be a fact and not an opinion. This can be seen in the comments made by the judge in the case of State v. Quintana (2004) where the defendant was arguing that the fingerprint experts testimony was unreliable. The judge commented that the uses of fingerprints was not definitive proof of the suspect being at the crime scene, stating that it was the expert's opinion that they were there and this may not be true.

Many of the forensic techniques used on forensic shows do not exist, as they are methods of collecting and analysing forensic evidence to help the television expects catch the perpetrator and are not available to forensic scientists in real life (Difonzo and Stern, 2007). Some experts, such as Thomas Mauriello (Cole and Dioso, 2005), claim that around 40 per cent of the techniques used on forensic shows actually do not exists, and when the techniques do exist they are not portrayed accurately, as the methods are altered to show the 'perfect' collection and interpretation of the evidence. What is noticeable is that the 'fake' forensics used in television shows are portrayed in a realistic way, which often gives the impression to the viewers, and even some forensic experts, that the methods used are real, as the techniques used are believable and are frequently used (Cavender and Deutsh, 2007). This portrayal of forensic science in the media can impact jurors in the court room, because they may have expectations of the methods used by forensic scientists and the results produced through forensic analysis. Therefore they may expect forensic experts to carry out test which do not exist in reality. Podlas (2006) notes that in forensic shows it is always portrayed as being possible to extract useful information form forensic evidence, when often it is not possible to do so due to the surrounding circumstances, such as the time between the evidence being left and being collected. Some of the forensic techniques used on forensic shows do exist but are not accurate methods, and the results are excluded from most court rooms (Saks and Koehler, 2005), as forensics in courts need to be of a certain standard and reliability, under the Daubert standard rules. These forensic methods are often referred to as 'junk' forensics.

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'Junk' forensic methods include identification through voice recordings, determining characteristics of a person through handwriting or identification through bite marks (Podlas, 2006). Other methods often used on forensic shows as conclusive evidence, which are debatable evidence in the courtroom, include ballistics, tool-marks and hair comparison (Difonzo and Stern, 2007). These are not seen as 'sound' evidence in court because they are extremely subjective and are very difficult to find a definitive match, although they can be used much more easily to eliminate a suspect because of no similarities, rather than trying to match similarities. Bite marks and tool marks are difficult to match due to swelling and distortions on the skin and it is therefore difficult to define the pattern of the mark left behind, because the transfer mark is often different to the object that made it. When these methods are used in the court room jurors can wrongly mistake this evidence as being conclusive due to how it is portrayed in forensic shows, and when these forensic methods are not used jurors may question the reasons for this, believing that such methods would either prove the guilt or innocence of the suspect (Roane, 2005). All of the methods mentioned above give jurors an unrealistic expectation of the forensics available and what forensics are 'sound' forensics, which are accurate and trusted and therefore allowed in court, and those 'fake' or 'junk' forensics which are used in television to help them solve a case, but cannot be used in a real courtroom as they do not exist or are unreliable (Cavender and Deutsh, 2007). Robbers (2008) researched the views of prosecutors and defence attorneys and noted that some respondents had claimed they had noticed an increase in 'junk' forensics making it into the court as well as an increase in the use of negative forensics to prove what didn't happen.

Cole and Dioso-Villa (2007) identify six different effect associated with the CSI effect, the first affect is the strong prosecutors effect, which means that jurors are acquitting defendants wrongfully, because the jurors have high expectations of the forensic evidence presented by the prosecutors, based on their forensic knowledge which they have learnt through watching television programmes such as CSI and other similar shows. This includes jurors acquitting defendants because of a lack of forensic evidence, even if there is plenty of non-forensic evidence to show the defendant's guilt, such as eye witness testimonies. McQuiston-Surrett and Saks (2009) collected data from several studies and found that forensic expert witnesses and forensic evidence have a greater impact on the jurors and 'factfinders' than non-forensic experts. The strong prosecutor's effect has been blamed for many high profile acquittals, such as that of Robert Blake, where the jury stated that they could not place the gun in the hands of Robert due to a lack of forensic evidence, even though there were over 70 witnesses presented at court (Dakss, 2005). In this case the prosecutors blamed the CSI effect for the acquittal as they believe that shows like CSI had increased the jurors need for forensic evidence, and in particular a need for gunshot residue, which they did not have.

Robbers (2008) researched the views of prosecutors and defence attorneys to see whether they had noticed forensic television programmes having an impact on the views of the jury. She found that 79 per cent of the respondents could remember a case where they thought that forensic shows had an influence the jurors' decision, and 53 per cent claimed that jurors disregarded eyewitness testimony in favour of forensic evidence. Schweitzer and Saks (2007 as cited in Kim, Barak and Shelton, 2009) conducted an experiment where they showed students a transcript of a court case and asked them to rate how they perceived the forensic evidence presented. They found that those who regularly watch forensic shows were more sceptical of inconclusive evidence than those who do not regularly watch forensic shows, and therefore they were less likely to convict. Although it has been blamed for many acquittals by prosecutors it is argued by many academics that actually the opposite is true, and that the jurors understand that the job for the prosecution and forensic scientists can be very difficult, and that there is a higher burden of proof on the prosecution to prove the defendant's guilt through the use of forensic evidence (Forensic Psychologist, 2010). Mello (1997, as cited in Podlas, 2006) suggests that forensic evidence has changed the boundaries jurors use to decide if a suspect is guilty, from beyond reasonable doubt to being 'beyond any and all doubt' (Podlas, 2006: 436), this can have both a negative and positive effect for prosecutors, as jurors could be sympathetic to the prosecution as they know their burden of proof is higher and therefore they might be more likely to believe them more. Or the jury could want more forensic evidence to be presented to reach the higher burden of proof they expect, and when the forensic evidence is not presented they could be more likely to return with a not guilty verdict. The evidence against the strong prosecutors' effect will be explored in more detail later when exploring the CSI effect on defendants', also known as the reverse CSI effect (Cole and Dioso-Villa, 2007).

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The second effect of the CSI effects identified Cole and Dioso-Villa (2007) is the weak prosecutor's effect. This is a response to the perceived strong prosecutor's effect mentioned above, and is an effect on the prosecutor rather than on the jury, because of the prosecutors' perception that jurors are over acquitting defendants based on an apparent lack of forensic evidence. The prosecutors have started to combat this perceived problem by taking measures to counteract it, such as questioning jurors about their perceptions of forensics, before the start of the trial, to ensure that the jury do not expect to see forensic evidence that is either not needed in the case or is not possible to obtain. They have also started explaining to jurors the reasons for a lack of forensic evidence during the trial as well as explaining the forensic evidence that is present. As Henderson (as cited in Pyrek, 2007: 411) says, 'prosecutors realize they have to fight the CSI effect, whether it is real or imagined; they know that if they don't keep explaining why certain types of evidence aren't present in the case, or why certain forensic tests were not conducted, jurors' expectations will not be met and they will get the wrong idea about the case.' What Henderson is describing here is the weak prosecutors' effects, stating an increase in the amount of information given by the prosecution to deal with the jurors' perceptions of what forensic evidence is available to the forensic scientists and to the prosecution, and that the prosecution need to question the jurors perceptions of what forensic evidence should be presented. Robbers (2008) also found evidence of this when she researched the views of prosecutors and defence attorneys on the medias impact on jurors. She noted that the majority of the respondents said that they spent extra time discussing forensic evidence and 30 per cent said that they needed to mention forensic science shows during trials to show how they are unrealistic, and that jurors should not expect the same forensics that are portrayed on television.

Defendants are also affected by the CSI effect, according to Cole and Dioso-Villa (2007). This effect has also been referred to as the 'reverse CSI effect' by many, such as Professor Tyler (Cole and Dioso-Villa, 2007), as it is the opposite of the CSI effect. This theory is that forensic television shows, such as CSI, actually improve people's perceptions and understandings of forensics, as these shows portray forensics and forensic scientists as reliable and very credible. Jurors who have seen forensic shows can relate their viewing experiences with that of the forensic experts in court. The reverse CSI effect has previously been discussed in this essay as evidence against a strong prosecutors' effect, as juries are becoming more sympathetic towards the prosecution and the forensic experts, as they are the ones with the burden of proof, and the use of forensic evidence has increased the burden of proof. Robbers (2008) noted that eleven per cent of defence attorneys who responded to her survey felt that forensic shows portrayed them in a poor light and therefore this made it harder for them to do their job, as the jury believe that the forensics are always right and therefore the defendant must be guilty and the defence attorneys are defending the guilty. False or misleading testimony by forensic experts has led to many wrongful convictions, with 63 per cent of wrongful convictions having an aspect of false or misleading forensic testimony as a contributing factor, according to Saks and Koehler (2005). This is the second most common factor behind eyewitness identifications, which is a factor in 71 per cent of wrongful convictions, showing that although forensic evidence is preferred to eye witness testimonies it is not far behind eye witness testimonies as a factor for wrongful convictions.

A reason for the reverse CSI effect is that forensic shows portray forensic examiners as credible professionals who follow the evidence, and only the evidence, to find the suspect (Difonzo and Stern, 2007). Shows such as CSI portray the experts as never making any human error, always being accurate, never contaminating the evidence and never implicating the wrong person. Therefore defendants are being found guilty when they would normally be acquitted because the jury believe in the evidence too much, as they believe that the evidence is never wrong and that the experts who follow the evidence never make mistakes or get personally involved in a case and lie to get the result that they want (Podlas, 2006). Podlas discusses how the CSI effect benefits the prosecution; she says that the way in which the forensic experts and crime scene analysts are portrayed effects how jurors see forensic evidence when it is presented in court. She notes that forensic scientists and the methods used in shows such as CSI are portrayed as legitimate and reliable and are never wrong, meaning that the prosecutors' case cannot be wrong. The science used in forensic television shows is always definitive and there is never any doubt as to whether the suspect is guilty or not, this is often reinforced with a confession by the suspect, which matches the forensic experts interpretation of events (Smith, Patry and Stinson, 2007).

In forensic shows such as CSI and Bones the forensic experts work closely with the police and other law enforcement bodies, but at the same time they are portrayed as being independent from the police, as a neutral part of the investigation (Stephens, 2007). But in real forensic labs the police often tell the forensic experts about the suspects they have identified, through other police methods, when they pass on forensic evidence to the experts. This is because many forensic labs in America are part of the police department and as a result forensic scientists have been known to falsify evidence and lie in court so that the evidence incriminates the defendant (Ross, 2011). This results in forensic experts trying to prove the guilt of the suspect using the forensic evidence rather than analysing the evidence as it is without a bias towards a particular suspect. This can be seen in an experiment carried out by Dror, Charlton and Péron (2006); they presented fingerprint experts with a pair of fingerprints and told them that the two sets of fingerprint were not a match. Most of the fingerprint experts in the study came to the conclusion that the prints did not match, when in fact they were fingerprints which the experts had matched previously in their career, showing that intervention from others can lead to misinterpretation of the evidence by experts, which many views of forensic shows believe cannot happen. Forensic evidence in television shows is never contaminated and there is never any human error in the interpretation of the evidence (Difonzo and Stern, 2007) and on the few occasions in forensic shows where evidence is contamination or there is human error the source is always identified before a the suspect is convicted, showing that if there are any errors they are always identified and can be solved quickly, whilst not damaging the case against the suspect. All of this shows that jurors believe that the forensic labs are neutral and do not make errors, as this is how it is portrayed on television, when in fact this is not always true due to close relationship between the police and forensic labs in America.

Cole and Dioso-Villa (2007) identified three other claims that are a result from the CSI effect; these are the producer's effect, the professor's version and the Police Chiefs vision. The producer's effect is the claim by the producers of CSI and other forensic television shows that such shows are educational and are making the public aware of forensics, and therefore making jurors better at assessing the forensic evidence presented to them, which combines all the 'positive' aspects of strong prosecutors' effect and the reverse CSI effect. The professor's version is that forensic science shows have led to an increase in the number of applicants for forensic science courses, but the number of students dropping out of such courses has increased, because the real forensics are not how it is portrayed on television. The final claim of the CSI effect is that of the Police, that forensic shows are educating criminals on how to avoid detection by removing evidence from the crime scene and taking extra precautions to not leave evidence behind. There is also evidence of there being no effect from forensic shows in court. Podlas (2006) conducted an experiment using university students, giving them a rape case where there was no forensic evidence present and none was required, as the case was to identify if the victim had consented or not, and found that those who regularly watch CSI were no more likely to find the suspect not guilty than those who do not regularly watch such programmes, showing that there was no CSI effect present in her experiment. Many of the experiments that claim to show the CSI were conducted using a mock jury, who often know what they experiment is trying to prove, or are based on the opinions of the prosecution or defence, who are very biased and are likely to use the CSI effect as an excuse for losing their case. Stephens (2007) starts her paper on the CSI effect by said that that there are numerous reasons and opinions for there being a CSI effect are they very compelling, but that there is little proof of the phenomenon.

It is not just fictional forensic shows that influence people's perception of forensic science, the news and other factual programmes also impact people's forensic knowledge (Brewer and Ley, 2010), as increased coverage of DNA in the news since the 1990's has led to people being more knowledgeable of subject, and its uses in criminal cases. Some researchers have found the opposite to be true, such as Brewer and Ley (2010) who found that those who watch a high proportion of television, not just forensic programmes, have a lower understanding of DNA than those that do not watch as much television. They also looked at other forms of media and found that those who regally read a newspaper generally had a higher self-perceived understanding of DNA, although they may not in fact have a better understanding of it than other people, they just perceive themselves to do so. There are also many true-crime programmes such as Forensic Files and The FBI Files. These shows portray real life crime and show how real detectives solved the case and the results of the courts. These are real and therefore portray forensics as they were used in the real cases (Brewer and Ley, 2010). No substantial research has been carried out in to the effects of these kinds of programmes on jurors and therefore little is known as to whether they affect how jurors see forensics in court.

This essay has explored how forensic programmes such as CSI and Bones have impacted people's perceptions of forensic science and how this has impacted the criminal justice system. The essay began by exploring the forensics techniques used in forensic shows and the 'fake' and 'junk' forensic techniques have meant that people's expectations of the types of forensics that can be used in court are different to the types of forensics which are actually used. The essay then went on to explore the different CSI effects identified by Cole and Dioso-Villa (2007). The first was the strong prosecutor's effect, which was the idea that the jurors are expecting more forensics from the police and prosecution to be presented in court, when often the forensics are not needed due to eye witness testimony, or the forensic technique the jury want to see does not exist or is not allowed in court (Cavender and Deutsh, 2007). Therefore jurors are acquitting suspects more often, as their burden of proof is higher than before as they want to see more forensic evidence presented. The second effect is the weak prosecutor's effect, this is a response to the strong prosecutor's effect, as the prosecution have to spend more time educating and questioning the jury so that they know what to expect from the case, and that they should not expect the same forensics that they see on television (Pyrek, 2007). The third main effect is the reverse CSI effect, this is that jurors are more likely to find a defendant guilty because they understand that the police and prosecution have a difficult job to carry out and therefore feel more sympathetic towards them. The jurors are also more likely to trust the forensic evidence which is presented in court as they do not believe that the evidence can be contaminated or that the experts are wrong, and they believe that the forensic experts never lie, because of how it is portrayed on television (Ross, 2011). Finally the essay explored the other types of television and media that depict forensics and how these might affect jurors. The general consensus amongst academic and professionals seems to be that forensics in the media has raised the expectations of the jurors, as they want to see more forensic evidence (Difonzo and Stern, 2007), because the media circulates cultural images of forensics which influence our everyday life and our understanding of it (Wilson, 2000 as cited in Cavender and Deutsh, 2007), but at the same time many experiment have shown that the CSI effect does not exist, but is imagined and is used as a reason when the prosecution or defence do not win a case which they think they should.