“The CSI Effect” - as it has come to be known - is becoming a reality in criminal trial courtrooms. As an expert witness in forensic science, it is something I deal with on a daily basis. The popular hit show “CSI”, no matter what spinoff you watch, has become such a phenomenon that it is skewing a juror’s perception of the definition of guilt or innocence. Often times, jurors are reluctant to convict or acquit a defendant without the “solid” evidence the hit TV show always delivers. Prosecutors, defense attorneys and expert witnesses are always having to attempt to read the minds of jurors to decide what questions to ask and the consequences of the answers. “The CSI Effect” is something that should be on your minds as well, whether you turn to criminal justice or forensic science as your career outlet. Here are a couple scenarios to think about - I’m very curious to hear your replies!
1) A pedestrian walking down a dark street at night hears gunshots. He then sees a man dropping something into a trash can. The pedestrian doesn’t get a really good look at the man, but notes an approximate height and weight/build. It’s too dark to make out facial features or even color of clothing. The pedestrian hides down the road fearing for his own safety, and waits until the next morning before returning to the trash can to see what was dumped. He retrives a 9mm handgun and immediately calls police.
After the victim comes forward, police are able to arrest a suspect. The victim was never struck with a bullet, but attests that the suspect shot at him a couple times after an argument. The suspect claims he was never in an argument and doesn’t own a 9mm handgun. At trial, the pedestrian testifies that he heard gunshots and saw a man with the defendant’s height and build throw a handgun in the trash can. There were no conclusive fingerprints lifted from the firearm, only smudges, and the serial number of the firearm had been filed off.
The prosecutor argues the circumstantial evidence is overwhelming because the victim and the suspect were definitely together at or around that time of the evening. And the police discovered the suspect was lying when he said he didn’t own a 9mm handgun. The suspect indeed owned a 9mm handgun, but could not produce it during a search warrant of him home. He claimed someone took it a couple days before. The prosecution closes its case by stating the integrity of the suspect is compromised by lying and the pedestrian eyewitness is a credible upstanding citizen in his community. The defense attorney does his best by contiuously stating the eyewitness did not positively identify the suspect and there is only circumstantial evidence against his client. As a juror on the case, what do you decide?
2) A woman is observed by police exiting an abandoned house well known for its drug activity. She gets into her car and drives away. The police officer pulls her over for failure to signal a lane change. After she exits the vehicle, he notes she is having difficulty speaking and is very nervous. The officer pulls a small glassine Ziploc bag with an off-white chunky material from her mouth. She is charged with violating the Controlled Substances Act by possessing a controlled substance and taken to jail for booking. The substance was transported to the local Crime Lab and found to be positive for cocaine. At the trial, the defense claims there is no proof that the event ever occurred because the incident was not videotaped and there was no DNA analysis performed on the Ziploc bag. There was a secondary officer present at the scene, but his integrity comes into play when the defense informs the jury of his misconduct on the force over the last couple of years. The defense attorney would not put it past the secondary officer to lie just to put this woman behind bars. The prosecutor states the arresting officer, however, has an outstanding record with the police department and has no reason to fabricate such a story. As a juror on the case, is the woman guilty or not guilty?