Prosecutors in the United States are often heard to complain these days of the "CSI-effect."' When they make this complaint, they mean that the popularity of television shows like CSI has made it unduly difficult for them to obtain convictions of guilty defendants. Jurors today have become spoiled as a result of the proliferation of these "high-tech" forensic shows, and now unrealistically expect conclusive scientific proof of guilt before they will convict. The unfortunate result is that guilty defendants are acquitted because of a lack of forensic evidence in cases where, in reality, no such forensic evidence was possible or realistically obtainable outside of Hollywood.
I have come to notice a different kind a reverberation from the CSI-type shows that I believe often hurts defendants and benefits the prosecution. The other side of the coin, which I will call the "Reverse CSI Effect," may be more damaging to the criminal justice system and the interests of justice than the opposite impact of which prosecutors complain. The "Reverse CSI Effect" can be stated as follows: while jurors may have come to expect, as a result of CSI-type shows, high-tech forensic testimony in criminal cases, and may inappropriately acquit when such evidence is lacking, these same jurors, as a result of these same CSI-type shows, often place too much weight on forensic evidence in cases where forensic evidence IS in fact produced by the prosecution, resulting in convictions in cases where the defendant probably should have been acquitted. To say it another way, in cases where no forensic evidence is introduced by the prosecution, jurors give the lack of such forensic evidence too much weight to the prosecution's unfair detriment (the "CSI Effect"), and in cases where forensic evidence IS produced by the prosecution, these same jurors give too much weight to this evidence to the defendant's unfair detriment (the "Reverse CSI Effect").
Part I of this Essay explores the problem of "junk science" in this country that has led to a plethora of wrongful convictions of the innocent. In this Part, I suggest that, contrary to the beliefs of many CSI watching jurors, the state of forensics in this country is far from how it is portrayed by Hollywood. Part II then discusses my anecdotal experience with cases in which jurors, who, while seemingly unaware of the problems that have been documented in this country with junk science, have convicted defendants on little more than what many in my field know to be highly questionable forensic testimony. I ponder whether CSI-type shows have contributed to jurors' over-reliance on forensic testimony that is, in reality, often quite dubious and offer my anecdotal experience, which suggests that they have. In conclusion, I call for further research of these issues before we definitively assert that CSI-type shows damage the prosecution the most, damage innocent defendants the most, or equally impact both sides of the adversarial system.
Mark A. Godsey & Marie Alou, 17 Texas Wesleyan L. Rev. 481 (2011).