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Prosecutors Feel Hampered By Public's Forensic Knowledge

By Christian
November 1, 2004 - 9:19 PM

Even as forensic scientists have enjoyed a surge of interest in their profession, prosecutors are less happy with the success of CSI: the show is making it a lot harder for them to win their cases.

"The CSI effect is real, and it's profound," jury consultant Robert Hirschhorn told Time Magazine, which this week includes a feature on the way CSI has influenced jurors throughout the country. Many juries now refuse to be satisfied by eyewitness accounts or even outright confessions, and instead demand the conclusive DNA evidence they know from TV. Unfortunately for prosecutors, this evidence is not quite as easy to obtain as Gil Grissom and his forensic wizards make it seem.

"DNA analysis is used every six seconds on CSI," said criminologist Robert J. Castelli. "To analyze properly a sample of DNA can cost as much as $10,000. You're not going to be using DNA analysis in every burglary."

As a result, prosecutors are spending more and more time teaching juries that it isn't always necessary to have full DNA evidence. But they're hindered by defense attorneys like Barry Scheck, former O.J. Simpson lawyer, who smell an increased chance of legal success if prosecutors are unable to present juries with the forensic proof they want. "Crime labs are in a crisis," Scheck said to Time. "An independent, scientifically rigorous, up-to-date crime lab is essential to law enforcement. CSI teaches us that."

Even without jury demands, improved crime labs may be necessary, as CSI is also teaching another group about forensics: criminals, who are increasingly aware that they must leave behind as few traces as possible, and learning new ways to do so just by watching the show. One example of this was the woman who allegedly robbed a bank and stored the money in a diaper bag, a technique she said she picked up from CSI.

Other examples can be found in the full article, which appears in the November 8 edition of Time.

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