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Is the 'CSI effect' influencing our court system?

11:29 PM, Nov 9, 2012   |    comments
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"It's called the CSI effect. It's about is the idea that the popular media, the popular television culture has an impact on jurors," Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey said.

We did an informal poll of potential jurors in the Denver courthouse jury room. We got some volunteers to share their thoughts about the "CSI effect."

"Can't say I have heard about it," said Zachary Huling, a potential juror whose services were not needed on the day we talked to him. "I know there are certain things that might be similar, but I wouldn't take for 100 percent fact."

Jurors say they have certain expectations when summoned because of what they see on TV.

"I expect to see the level of technology that is probably the best out there," potential Denver juror Leah Howard said. "I think we get a lot of our information from television programs we watch."

Future juror Susan Lawson seemed to be somewhat clear of the tools available to investigators in fantasy land and in real life.

"You think, boy, it would sure be neat if they did have that available to them to determine guilt or innocence of somebody," Lawson said.

Morrissey has seen this effect over the years.

"When I select a jury I always ask, are they big fans of CSI? There will always be a couple of people who raise their hands," he said. "I've got somebody that believes that CSI is real, I don't want them on my jury, because CSI is not real."

A point Morrissey says he's had to explain to jurors. He has been a DA for a long time, long enough to see TV fiction become investigative reality.

Morrissey tried his first DNA case in 1989.

"When those shows really started to hit, it was about the same time we started seeing forensics playing a much bigger role in solving cases," he said.

Jurors, Morrissey says, started paying more attention; a good thing in some cases.

"They take notes. They want to learn about the science and want to be able to eventually tell people what they learned," he said.

But as much as shows may help, the fancy technology they feature isn't helping the real-life cases.

"Sometimes that causes us a problem because jurors think 'oh yeah, they can do this. I saw this on CSI.' But we really can't do it," Morrissey said.

Gregg LaBerge is in charge of anything evidence-related at the Denver Police Department. He runs the new Crime Lab.

"We're doing from 10,000 to 16,000 cases each year," he said. "What the CSI effect talks about, that forensic science is important; it's actually accurate. Where I think it gets derailed a little bit is the expectations that it builds."

LaBerge says Denver's new Crime Lab has many capabilities shown on TV, minus some of the flashiness.

"I think the fictional representation of it will actually drive what happens in the future," LaBerge said. "I think if you look in the past people wouldn't think they'd be browsing the internet on a cell phone. Fiction can drive reality. Fiction does drive reality. It's a matter of when, not if."

Morrissey says he remembers a time when people didn't know anything about importance of fingerprints or ballistics or DNA.

The shows, he says, helped people get a better sense of how the criminal justice system works.

(KUSA-TV © 2012 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)

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