We all have our favorite crime shows on television. Whether it’s Crime Scene Investigation, Law & Order, Forensic Files, or NCIS, shows that include the process of forensics tend to draw a high viewership. These crime shows make the viewer wonder whether or not it is possible to commit such crimes and get away with it – and while some viewers may think it’s possible, it’s worth noting that the forensic practices you see in these shows are heavily exaggerated. These ‘fictional’ procedures distort viewers’ perception on the actual practice of forensic science, causing what is known as ‘The CSI Effect.’
What is The CSI Effect?
The CSI Effect, named after the show Crime Scene Investigation, is the idea that your favorite crime shows develop a false perception of how the forensic process works. For instance, in shows such as Law & Order and Crime Scene Investigation, DNA test results only seem to take an hour or a few hours when in reality, it can take days or weeks to get the results back, depending on which DNA testing facility is used. This distorted perception leads jurors to believe that cases are supposed to be handled the same way they view it on television.
What is the problem with The CSI Effect?
The problem is this: Not all viewers know fiction from reality. Most viewers begin watching these crime shows with no education on the forensic process – and since they know nothing about the topic, the ‘Hollywood’ fictional practices they see on these shows start to influence their perceptions. Why is this a problem? Unfortunately, The CSI Effect contributes to false perceptions and can ultimately lead to a disaster in courtrooms, especially a courtroom where the jurors are heavy CSI and other crime show watchers.
The CSI Effect Case Studies
Here are a few cases that were influenced by The CSI Effect:
Actor Robert Blake was accused of murdering his wife, Bonnie Lee Bakley, in Blake’s car outside of a restaurant in 2001. Although the prosecutor presented over 70 witnesses that testified against Blake, the lack of being able to present clear-cut evidence (as most of the cases in CSI contain) led the jury to acquit Blake of all charges. According to the CBS News article:
It was prosecutor Shellie Samuels’ first loss in 50 murder cases. Though she presented more than 70 witnesses against Blake, she couldn’t show the jury blood evidence, or conclusive gun-shot residue.
Oregon District Attorney, Josh Marquis adds:
Jurors now expect us to have a DNA test for just about every case, they expect us to have the most advanced technology possible, and they expect it to look like it does on television.
Marina Calabro was an elderly woman who was murdered by her nephew and his friends in 2001. The CSI Effect was evident as the suspects were heavy viewers of the crime show Forensic Files. As their infatuation with the show intensified, the boys came to the conclusion that it would be rather easy to commit murder and get away with it. A few days before Christmas, Marina’s nephew, Anthony Calabro, kept watch outside while his friends murdered the 84-year-old using techniques they learned from television. The boys made it look like she fell down the stairs by dragging the body to the stairs and placing a trash bag next to her.
The murder was ruled an accident until one of the boys’ friends went to the police upon hearing the story of how the crime happened.
Jermaine McKinney broke into a home and murdered a mother and daughter. As a fan of the show Crime Scene Investigation, McKinney had implemented many tactics he had learned from the show, including using bleach to wipe the blood off of his hands as well as burning the bodies of the victims in the basement. McKinney even covered the inside of his car so that blood wouldn’t get transferred.
Although he was careful in his crime, McKinney had overlooked a few obvious things that his favorite show didn’t teach him. McKinney was found guilty and received two life sentences.
The CSI Effect can have a negative impact on society’s perceptions. Are you a fan of crime shows? Which one is your favorite? Let us know below.