Is “CSI” Causing A Quest For “Negative Forensic Evidence”?


Jurors in Dakota County, Mn., reduced a felony charge of criminal vehicular operation to a misdemeanor because “they wanted to see a computerized reenactment,” said prosecutor Phil Prokopowicz. The Minneapolis Star Tribune says he fears the case is an example of what prosecutors call the “CSI effect”: Jurors who are crime-drama devotees demand the same high-tech, slam-dunk proof of guilt that their TV heroes produce every week. Twin Cities prosecutors routinely ask questions about the television shows during jury selection — and strike some prospective jurors from serving on trials because of the perceptions they say the crime dramas cause.

Some prosecutors are asking police and crime labs to do more testing for fingerprints and DNA evidence out of concern that jurors expect to see more of it at trials. Forensic scientists at the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension are getting more requests from prosecutors to testify about why fingerprints and DNA evidence cannot be recovered at every crime scene — and why they don’t always yield conclusive proof. Hennepin County prosecutor Amy Klobuchar said there’s great new pressure to provide “negative forensic evidence.” Prosecutors feel more compelled to call such witnesses because defense attorneys are arguing more often that key evidence was not tested. “You see more [defense] arguments like, ‘Sure, they have an eyewitness, but they never did a DNA test on the handle of the weapon,’ ” Prokopowicz said. Defense attorney Anthony Torres said jury selections have convinced him that ” ‘CSI’ is the most-watched program on television. It seems three-fourths of the prospective jurors have viewed it.” Still, he has seen no proof of the “CSI effect.” Hennepin County District Judge Kevin Burke shows like “CSI” have many fans, but that most prospective jurors seem to know “they are entertainment, and not the real stuff.”


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