Crime Labs Are Overworked, Under-Funded, Usually Not Like “CSI”


Unlike the TV show CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. in real life, crime scenes don't always yield compelling forensic evidence and analysts don't always catch everything, says Stateline. Juries, however, have come to expect that they do. “They see a lot of this stuff on TV in the last 10 years, all these ‘CSI’ shows, and they think we can pull a rabbit out of our hat,” said FBI agent Doug Seccombe. “And it’s not like that.” Crime scene investigators and crime labs are overworked and under-funded. This has led to backlogs of untested evidence, created problems with preserving evidence once it's collected, and led a Massachusetts chemist to falsify thousands of lab samples.

For an industry that's held up on television shows like CSI as practically infallible, the Masssachusetts case is shocking. The forensic science field is in flux after a top-to-bottom review in 2009 by the National Academy of Sciences. The report cast major doubt on many common forensic techniques, calling them unscientific and error-prone. While the results have shaken up the forensic science community, Judge Donald Shelton of Michigan says the effect on the courts hasn't set in yet. “One of my concerns, “he says, “is that these forms of evidence that we know from the National Academy of Sciences report aren't valid, are still routinely offered and routinely admitted by judges.”

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