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Friday, September 16, 2011

Essay on CSI Effect - Investigating Whether it is Real

Whether or not the CSI effect is real is a matter that is very difficult to prove.  The influence of the CSI on the minds of the jurors as they deliberate on their verdict in a criminal case is very subjective.  Determining whether the television series actually influences disposition of the cases in the criminal justice system is actually more difficult to prove.  Perhaps, no juror would openly admit that he compares the practices in the CSI and the practices in real-life investigations.  No juror would also admit that he expects the real-life investigators to follow the same procedures being practiced in the CSI.  However, there are certain indicators that can be used to establish that the CSI effect is real.  Some say that these indicators are convincingly enough to establish that the CSI has an effect on the mind of the jurors in the deliberation of the case.

One of the peculiarities in the American legal system, juries are classified as petite or grand (Jeffrey Heinrick, 2006, p. 59).  A petite jury has at least 6 jurors who sit in cases involving misdemeanor.  A grand jury has 12 jurors and deal with offenses involving felonies.

Another peculiarity of the American legal system is the concept known as the plea bargaining.  Plea bargaining is essentially an agreement between the prosecutor and the accused in which the accused pleads guilty in exchange for a lesser sentence or a reduced charge.  It is a recognized procedure and practice in the criminal justice system which aims to reduce the clogging of cases in court.  Cases which are plea bargained never reach the jury for deliberation.  According to statistics, it is estimated that almost 94 percent of all federal-court felony convictions were by guilty plea (Albert W. Alschuler, 2002, p.1).

In a number of cases that are not plea bargained, the jury plays a very important role since it hands down the verdict based on the evidence presented by the prosecution and the defense.  Oftentimes the verdict of the prosecution depends not on the strength of the evidence of the prosecution or the defense but on the manner by which the jury appreciates the evidence presented before them.  In situations where the case could go either way because the evidence is not conclusive enough to make a case for or against the accused, which is often the case in many criminal cases, the jury relies on its instinct in making its decision.  In these situations, the jury often relies on “what they know and feel comfortable with – evidentiary procedures they have viewed on television” ((Jeffrey Heinrick, 2006, p. 59).

The CSI effect played a key role in the case of Robert Blake.  In 2005, Robert Blake was acquitted by the jury for the murder of Bonny Lee Bakley his wife and the mother of his daughter.  It appeared that that Bonny Lee Bakley was shot in the head on May 4, 2001 while she was inside Blake’s car which was in front of an Italian restaurant.  The prosecution thought that they had a strong case against Robert Blake as against Blake’s alibi saying that he went back to the restaurant to get his gun (Jeffrey Heinrick, 2006, p.59).  The prosecution was also able to get two stuntmen who testified that Blake had talked to them about killing his wife.  Though the prosecution believed that they lacked physical evidence to back their case, the testimonial evidence of the two stuntmen compensated for the lack of physical evidence.

One of the jurors, Thomas Nicholson, however, criticized the weak evidence of the prosecution saying that there was no gun shot residue, no blood on the clothing. (Liza Sweetingham, 2005, p.1)  Lori Moore, another member of the jury, said that “we just didn’t have enough evidence to say whether or not he did it. (Liza Sweetingham, 2005, p.1) After the case was decided, the prosecutor even went public to criticize the jury for their incompetence.  He even intimated that the CSI effect was responsible for Blake’s acquittal.

Liza Sweetingham stated that the CSI and the awareness of the advances in science and technology have led the jurors to expect more evidence from the prosecution.  In order to convict they no longer want the evidence to be sufficient to establish proof beyond reasonable doubt.  Rather, these expectations are stretching the standard of proof to beyond all doubt.  In the case of Blake, one of the jurors even thought that it was possible to lift and take multiple fingerprints off a given object and determine its source.  This belief was regardless of the expert witnesses presented by the prosecution to establish how difficult it was to lift prints.

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