Juror Study Shows More of a BlackBerry Effect than a 'CSI' Effect

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The chief judge of Washtenaw County in Ann Arbor, Mich., had heard a lot about the so-called CSI effect—said to increase jurors’ expectations that technology can solve crimes with lightning speed, just as it happens on the television show CSI. But he hadn’t seen the evidence.

So Judge Donald Shelton devised two studies of people called for jury duty, and found more of a BlackBerry effect, NPR reports. “The more sophisticated technological devices that jurors had,” Shelton said, “the higher their expectations for the prosecutors to present evidence.”

Both studies asked potential jurors what kind of evidence they expected to be presented in a variety of criminal cases, and whether they would vote to convict in 13 different evidentiary scenarios. The second study, conducted in Detroit’s Wayne County in 2009, also included questions about jurors’ use of technology such as computers, cellphones and GPS devices.

The first study, conducted in 2006 in Washtenaw County, found that frequent CSI watchers had higher expectations for all types of evidence, but in most cases the increased expectations did not translate into demands for such evidence as a prerequisite for conviction. And when CSI watchers were compared with other jurors, there was no significant difference in their demand for scientific evidence for a conviction in nine of the 13 scenarios.

The second study in Wayne County found no difference in propensity to convict in all 13 categories. But there was another difference: The more sophisticated the jurors were in their use of technology, the more they expected prosecutors to present scientific evidence.

Shelton wrote about the results in an article for the Thomas M. Cooley Law Review (PDF). “Like the unicorn and the mermaid, the CSI effect is a myth,” Shelton said.

But Shelton and other observers told NPR that some prosecutors and judges still act as if the CSI effect were real. Sometimes investigators run useless tests, just to show jurors they used technology, Shelton said. And judges are telling jurors not to expect too much from scientific evidence.

NPR spoke to CSI creator Anthony Zuiker to get his take on the rumored CSI effect. He agreed that viewers are smarter than some people would believe. “I think Americans know that DNA doesn’t come back in 20 minutes,” Zuiker said. “I think Americans know that there’s not some magical computer that you press and the guy’s face pops up and where he lives.”

Related coverage:

ABAJournal.com: Bar Guidelines for Ohio Jurors: Forget What You Saw on ‘Judge Judy’ and ‘CSI’

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