Wait a minute: maybe the CSI Effect is real after all…

…or at least, the reports of its demise are premature.

There’s been a bit of talk lately about a study which claims to show that the supposed ‘CSI Effect’, in which jurors have totally unrealistic expectations about the kinds of forensic testing that should be present in a court case (See this NPR story to see what I’m talking about) isn’t real.

Where’s the problem?

“What we decided to do was survey people called for jury service before they were actually selected,” he says.

Juror pools are not the same as collections of actual jurors, because in the American legal system lawyers are permitted to exclude a certain number of jurors for whatever reason they wish, with the result that each side tries to exclude candidates they feel will be unsympathetic with their arguments and include those who’d be sympathetic. In a mugging case, for example, the defending lawyer might ask the pool of potential jurors if they or any close family member had ever been mugged themselves and then ask that anyone answering in the affirmative be dismissed, reasoning that such people might be inclined to view someone accused of the crime with pre-judgment.

I’ve heard claims that people whose professions include training in standards of evidence or specific types of science likely to be involved in court cases are specifically excluded by lawyers – or more generally, anyone who would be inclined and capable of applying critical thinking to their arguments. To what degree this is true, I don’t know.

But the pool of potential jurors clearly does not accurately represent the population of actual jurors. A study on the attitudes of the former cannot be used to reach conclusions about the latter.

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One Response to “Wait a minute: maybe the CSI Effect is real after all…”

  1. michael vassar Says:

    My father used to claim this based on his experience as a lawyer.

    BTW, how are you doing? I haven’t heard from you for a LONG time. Why don’t you shoot me an email?

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