May 10, 2007

Don't call it the "C.S.I. effect" and complain. Call it the "tech effect" and adapt.

Here's a new empirical study. (PDF.) Conclusion:
To the extent that critics claim that the direct effect of watching CSI or other crime-related television programs is to make jurors more likely to acquit guilty defendants, the results of this study do not confirm that any such “CSI effect” exists. The results show that specifically watching CSI or a similar show did not have a causative impact on juror demands for scientific evidence as a condition of a guilty verdict in most criminal case scenarios. Additionally, a significant percentage of all respondent jurors, regardless of whether they specifically watched CSI or its ilk, have high expectations that the prosecutor will present some scientific evidence in virtually every criminal case. And those expectations do translate into demands for scientific evidence as a condition of guilt in some case scenarios, particularly where the charge is serious and particularly where the other evidence of guilt is circumstantial.

Rather than any direct “CSI effect” from watching certain types of television programs, this article suggests that these juror expectations of and demands for scientific evidence are the result of broader changes in popular culture related to advancements in both technology and information distribution. Those broad and pervasive changes in technology lead jurors to expect that the prosecutor will obtain and present the scientific evidence that technology has made possible. These increased expectations and demands of jurors therefore could be more accurately referred to as the “tech effect.”

The criminal justice system must adapt to the “tech effect” rather than fight against it. The constitutional stature of juries in our system is based on the principle that individual judgments of guilt or innocence, like issues of other governmental representation, should be made by ordinary citizens. It is not only appropriate but constitutionally expected that those jurors and their verdicts will reflect the changes that have occurred in popular culture. To adapt, law enforcement officials will have to commit additional resources to obtaining scientific evidence in many more situations. In the meantime, the law must become better at explaining to jurors why such evidence is not forthcoming.
Sounds right to me. That was my instinct when I reacted to complaints about the "C.S.I. effect" two years ago:
[I]t seems to me that "C.S.I." would tend to sharpen a viewer's perception and attention to logical reasoning. I'm not that sympathetic to prosecutors' whining that they can't rely on jurors' fuzzy thinking anymore. Defense lawyers have always complained about the way jurors were dazzled by science and would defer to expertise. So what if everyone thinks he's an expert too now? That's an incentive for prosecutors to do their work well. The imperfection of real-life evidence is just one more thing they will have to get through to the C.S.I.-sharpened minds of the jurors.

21 comments:

Sloanasaurus said...

I also hope that most people realize that CSI is a TV show. We never see the endless hours of boredom from these CSI jobs.

Still the scientific advances in crime are amazing, but so are the opportunities to frame someone.

How easy would it be to put someone's DNA at a location ready to be found by the cops. Who would believe you if your alibi was "being at home sleeping or watching tv" when your DNA appears across town.

Blind reliance on science can be used for evil ends (like the global warming alarmists using fake science to pursue a collectivist society). Therefore, it should always be accompanied by other evidence.

Bissage said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Too many jims said...

I think the first link is bad (or is it just me).

Hey said...

It just sounds like both sets of lawyers are complaining that their sophistry is no longer enough, they have to go out and WORK. It's, like, HARD, like, and so not, like, what they went to law school for. They can't DO math or science, why do you think they took liberal arts degrees and argue for a living?

Sounds remarkably similar to ancient writers getting worked up over how typewriters/computers are inimical to "real" writing, business execs that won't use a cell/email/laptop/spreadsheet... Fuddy-duddies bewailing the change and making their last stand before they get run over by the more adaptable competition.

vet66 said...

Prsecutors and Defense attorneys must both realize that public access to the scientific process occurs outside the media also. Many jobs require random urinalysis and Blood Alcohol tests as a condition of employment. Chain of custody and proper handling of specimens/equipment requirements are taught and learned.

As the OJ trial taught, the new defense methods of trying a case is to focus on the minutia of the scientific process pursuing the ever-popular reasonable doubt verdict.

The nightmare scenario for prosecutors and defense attorneys is an educated and informed jury pool! The great equalizers are overworked public defenders and prosecuting attorneys on a limited budget at reelection time.

Ann Althouse said...

Sorry about the botched link. Now fixed.

PatCA said...

I think the TV tech effect leads to jurors being disappointed when the perfect answer does not arise in trial in real life. They really have to weigh conflicting evidence. If it was easy, the case would have been settled...

A related anecdote: I read that police from all over the world at a police conference reported that suspects under arrest often demand a phone call, to talk to a lawyer, or their Miranda rights--all gleaned from watching US cop shows. The police remind them where they are and, unfortunately for them, are not.

Bissage said...

Prior comment at 8:34 fixed:

I'm not saying that scientific evidence isn't good. It is. But it's not an argument in its favor to evoke the "principle that individual judgments of guilt or innocence, like issues of other governmental representation, should be made by ordinary citizens."

Where there is scientific evidence, there is an expert witness. Where there is an expert witness, there is deference.

It used to be that familiarity with the accused was a condition precedent to jury service.

Scientific evidence takes us a step further away from that.

Cedarford said...

Vet66 - The nightmare scenario for prosecutors and defense attorneys is an educated and informed jury pool!

Not exactly coming to a city near you, soon. Lawyers may in general lack the scientific and mathematical education to understand and deal with new high tech and forensic sciences applied to crimestopping, but they are way ahead of the average ability of a public school-educated inner city jury to comprehend it.

It's not just the OJ jury being a pile of morons unable to grasp obvious CSI-style evidence. Other piles of morons have to sit in malpractice cases for months where competing experts talk blood gas components, vagus nerve graph traces, and cardiograph "P-waves" and head out of the verdict telling people they didn't understand a lot of what was said, but bottom line was the patient needed some money...

Complex financial, product liability, antitrust, corporate malfeasance, even terror conspiracy trials also have grown too technical, too detailed and going on for years...to have ill-educated, subpar IQ juries really able to understand them and make an informed decision. A few years-long antitrust actions collapsed when defense had motions accepted that the jury just lacked the intellectual ability to be educated on the corporate law in play and federal regualations enough to make an informed decision on if the laws or regs were broken.

Hate to say it, but the Napoleonic system of an investigating magistrate selected for demonstrated ability in areas of investigation involved and 3 deciding judges selected outside politics with a broader education than most US judges selected out of the US political system have - appears better suited to make such decisions than a typical US jury.

CSI also seems to "work" only with 4th Amendment searches a "snap" to get so the TV writers can design a crime to best fit all the high tech they wish to feature and apply to various 4th-protected items on that particular show - and suspects mysteriously waive their 5th Amendment rights and ability to lawyer up time and time again.


The "Law" also has issues with dealing with science even when it is obvious and exculpatory in nature. Many jurisdictions still resist DNA testing for prisoner appeals because they believe the "truth" is what the jury decided after "looking at all the facts" and "one test" should not trump their decision. Other areas of law, such as child support, deem DNA testing that shows a man did not father the child he has been ordered to pay support to "irrelevant" to the "best interests of mother and child".

Other nations have gone more high tech in their legal systems with improved lie detectors, scientific interrogation, and no 5th Amendment Right to refuse to talk. A reliable lie detector in "he said, she said cases" both sides were required to take - would greatly simplify and shorten
criminal and tort cases and cut down on lawyer costs....perhaps a reason why many lawyers hate and fear technology that is now heading there....

David said...

Someone who thinks that judges are better suited than juries to deciding the facts hasn't met enough judges.

tjl said...

"The nightmare scenario for prosecutors and defense attorneys is an educated and informed jury pool!"

Not necessarily. I had an ER nurse as a juror in a domestic violence case. The nurse saw that the medical evidence totally contradicted the complainant's version of events. The jury properly acquitted my client despite his impeachment by several prior convictions.

Blue Moon said...

As a prosecutor, my dream is an educated jury pool. Some girl gets molested by her step dad for three years and outcries while at school and I got 8 idiot jurors asking me why there is no DNA.

The other problem beyond the dumb juror is the weak, indecicive juror that can't send someone to prison or can't acquit someone even though they believe it is the right decision. You spend all day or more in voir dire giving these weak willies chance after chance to get out of serving and they decide during deliberation that "Golly gee, I guess I really cannot send a burglary to prison even though he is not eligible for probation" or "Wow, if he was really not guilty, he would never have been indicted."

What we have lost in this society is common sense and trust. CSI makes us feel good because science is "objective" -- unlike pesky lying mistaken eyewitnesses. Except CSI can't stop a rapist who wears a condom, a murder who wears gloves, or a robber that wears a mask. Only witnesses can do something about that, but we do not trust anyone anymore for good (Duke rape case) and bad reasons (no one wants to step up and make a decision).

J said...

"A few years-long antitrust actions collapsed when defense had motions accepted that the jury just lacked the intellectual ability to be educated on the corporate law in play and federal regualations enough to make an informed decision on if the laws or regs were broken"

The problem in that situation might be the law, not the jury. And as somebody else pointed out, that fact that somebody is a judge is no insurance against innumeracy or ignorance of science.

I'm not as pessimistic about the CSI effect. They've done a couple of shows that went into my area of expertise that were just preposterous, and I suspect more people than you think are able to grasp that CSI (and the various L&O variants) aren't that representative of reality - everybody has some expertise in some area. Having sat through one trial as a juror, I can also attest that it was so different from anything depicted on TV that many jurors (especially those "ill-educated, subpar IQ juries") might not even draw any connection.

"It's not just the OJ jury being a pile of morons unable to grasp obvious CSI-style evidence"

I'm going out on a limb here, but there might have been another agenda in play in that trial.

Methadras said...

While I wouldn't advocate such a thing, but isn't this thesis almost calling for a professional jury system?

Revenant said...

Only witnesses can do something about that

This isn't a matter of "trust", really. It is a matter of KNOWING that eyewitness testimony isn't worth much. People aren't just sometimes wrong about what they saw -- they are USUALLY wrong about what they saw.

One of the great ironies of the justice system is that eyewitness testimony is held in the highest regard, when in reality it is one of the very worst forms of evidence.

Blue Moon said...

There is a difference between "I saw that man do it" and the witness has never met the man and "I saw Joe who I have known for 9 months do it." I would never try a case with eyewitness ID as my only evidence -- but it is pretty damn good when you also have, say, stolen property in your pocket and an eyewitness. And yet there are jurors who still "need" something more than that, or want me to disprove that aliens came down and put the property in the guy's pocket or brain washed the witnesses.

Hey said...

Revenant: Eye witness testimony used to work because the system was dealing with small communities where everyone knew each other - the type of community that the human brain is well equipped to handle. With urbanisation, population growth, and transportation advances (going back to the train), the system just can't cope because we aren't able to give good IDs and far, far too much happens every day for any event to truly stand out.

Most civil trials should be removed from juries to a Napoleonic style system with specially educated judges (not just your regular failed/lazy lawyers or ambitious politicians). Administrative law is a good step, bu this should be broadly expanded to white collar criminal law for both individual and corporate defendents.

Methadras said...

Revenant said...

Only witnesses can do something about that

This isn't a matter of "trust", really. It is a matter of KNOWING that eyewitness testimony isn't worth much. People aren't just sometimes wrong about what they saw -- they are USUALLY wrong about what they saw.

One of the great ironies of the justice system is that eyewitness testimony is held in the highest regard, when in reality it is one of the very worst forms of evidence.


Then what do you propose? That eye witness testimony be placed on the same level as hearsay testimony? If hearsay testimony is deemed inaccurate and can be objected to, and if eye witness testimony is faulty, if not downright inaccurate as you say it is, then what do you have left but to deem the two as equal.

The only thing you have to fall back on is hard collected and discovered evidence. Where does that leave the 'justice' system then?

Bruce Hayden said...

One thing nice about the original CSI is that they tend to follow the law a bit better than they do with most cop shows. You routinely have them asking for permission to search something, and you also see refusals. Sometimes, the CSI people counter that they will just have to get a warrant. But almost a routinely, they say, go ahead.

The other two CSI shows are more problematic. They run around just like cops, pulling their guns out and shooting people. Maybe legitimately, but why the heck are they putting themselves in that position in the first place? In the original series, when they use their guns, which is rare (and the main character doesn't carry one), it is invariably problematic.

But I think the problem with all of them is not that there is gee-whiz technology, but that it always works. Of course, they always need a technological resolution by the end to wrap things up. But in real life, it doesn't work that way. Most murders go unsolved, despite the best efforts of the local crime labs.

J said...

"Then what do you propose? That eye witness testimony be placed on the same level as hearsay testimony?"

No, but it wouldn't hurt to brief jurors on the limitations of eyewitness testimony, with emphasis on the human brain's tendency to "fill in the blanks", and an explanation that eyewitnesses who suffer that phenomenon are merely wrong, not lying. There are a number of demonstrations I saw or participated in during accident investigator training that a jury could watch (or better yet, participate in) in a matter of minutes.

Eyewitness testimony of traumatic or exciting events is useful to the extent it explains the physical evidence - beyond that it should be viewed with great skepticism.

"Most civil trials should be removed from juries to a Napoleonic style system with specially educated judges (not just your regular failed/lazy lawyers or ambitious politicians)"

How prevalent is this idea in the legal profession? I agree that juries frquently seem to come up with idiotic verdicts, but I'm not convinced a panel of special-ed judges would do any better.

Revenant said...

Then what do you propose? That eye witness testimony be placed on the same level as hearsay testimony?

I was simply observing the fact that eyewitness testimony is extremely unreliable and it is entirely reasonable of jurors not to trust it.

I don't have to have an alternative in mind to make that observation, just like I don't have to know the cure for cancer to know that homeopathic medicine isn't it. :)