I’m not Alex Cabot*

Raise your hand if you’ve ever seen CSI. Law and Order? NCIS? Bones? Rizzoli & Isles? Cold Case? Probably 95% of you. Most of America right? That fact is something I have to think about during trial, believe it or not.

During voir dire (jury selection) the judge in the court I am assigned to, while legally admonishing the potential jury panel, says something to the effect of how he believes “there is even now a CSI: El Paso where they solve cow-tipping cases with lasers and mass-spectrometers.” It gets a laugh every time from the jurors but it speaks to a much larger phenomenon: the CSI Effect.


Truth be told, before I started interning at the DA’s office I was slightly under this misconception so it definitely isn’t just people in non-legal fields that are subject to it. Basically what the CSI effect boils down to is that juries are now requiring more evidence (ie fingerprints, DNA, lab tests, and every substance run through the machine that the ‘squints’ seem to love so much) in every type of case. In reality that just doesn’t happen. In cases that have higher ranges of punishment, think Murder, Aggravated Assault, and Kidnapping, more scientific tests and evidence are run/gathered than in misdemeanors; think DWI, Criminal Trespass, and Possession of Marijuana.

This difference in quantity (definitely not quality, I believe I work with some of the best police officers and investigators in America) in the different cases isn’t because someone chose not to get the evidence. What it’s usually due to is the fact that other evidence must be gathered first, or a crime scene team cannot be sent out to every misdemeanor, lab tests cannot be returned the same day, or that the perpetrator of the crime is usually apparent. Think about it: if a police officer is talking to a suspect and the suspect is holding a bag of marijuana, does the bag really need to be dusted for fingerprints? Does the marijuana blunt in his hand need to be tested for DNA? Does the steering wheel of a vehicle need to be fingerprinted in a DWI case?

The law states that if the jury believes beyond a reasonable doubt that the elements of the crime have been satisfied then their verdict must be guilty. The judge in my court is awesome at asking if the potential jurors would require more evidence if they believed beyond a reasonable doubt. Example: “if you believe beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty of driving while intoxicated and there is no blood alcohol content test given to you, would you require that to convict?”

What would your answer be?

Many people say that they would require a blood test or some other kind of test even if they already believe beyond a reasonable doubt. That my friends is the CSI effect right there.


Thoughts on the CSI Effect?


*even though that would be awesome