- June 24, 2020
CSI Effect An Influence of CSI Television Shows on Criminal Justice System Unit
CSIEffect: An Influence of CSI Television Shows on Criminal JusticeSystem
In the modern times of a globalized and technologically advancedworld, the media has a huge role to play in shaping societies,cultures, politics, and behaviors. The increased consumption levelsof the media content courtesy of changes in the lifestyle andtechnology means that this level of influence can only grow stronger.The variety of content aired via various platforms such as onlinestreaming, cable television, webcasts, and free to air networks hasalso increased. One area of content that has continued to thrivepertains to crime scene investigations (CSI) and detectivenarratives. These shows raise public awareness and understanding ofcriminology by highlighting facts and explaining technical terms. Atthe same time, some of these shows have perpetuated some myths basedon fantasies and fallacies created by program producers anddirectors. Accordingly, they have shaped opinions and attitudestowards the criminal justice system. This kind of influencehenceforth called the CSI effect is not limited to the generalpublic. Practitioners in the criminal justice system and criminalsare also affected. Thus, it can be argued that the rise of CSItelevision shows and their popularity are partially influencing casehandling, results of court trials, the behavior of criminals, andforensic science programs at colleges.
The CSI effect is defined as the supposed power of crime-relatedshows on actors in the criminal justice system and how they view andperceive the investigative and court processes (Maeder & Corbett2013). Initially, the term was applied in discussing juror behaviorbut has been expanded to include all actors in the system. TheAmerican Bar Association offers a comprehensive definition of the CSIeffect as the
phenomenon whereby high-tech forensic science dramatized intelevision crime dramas such as CSI, Law & Order, and ForensicFiles theoretically promote unrealistic expectations among jurors ofhow apparently clearly and definitely forensic evidence can determineinnocence or guilt (cited in Monachino 2016. p. 4).
Ideally, the showsmay create certain expectations of the criminal justice system thatmay impact the fairness of the process. Most importantly, the abilityof these shows to gather overwhelming scientific evidence toprosecute cases may influence the actors to demand such levels ofproof in court (Lam 2014). The concept remains highly contested, andresearch findings vary widely. Baskin and Sommers (2013) say that theeffect is real while Hayes and Levett (2013) say the effect variesacross populations.
Although traditional television programs are perceived as a form ofentertainment that may not necessarily portray reality, CSI shows areseen somehow differently. Many scholars in sociology and behavioralsciences have cited the role of mass media in influencing behavior,with some out of the outcomes being negative (Hayes & Levett2013 Monachino 2016). For instance, criminal behavior and violencehave been attributed to some video games and TV shows that tend toglorify such behavior (Lam 2014). In response, some behaviorists callfor the portrayal of better behavior and scaling down of violence inthe media to induce the same in the population (Hayes & Levett2013). In the case of crime shows, the impact is no different. Theshows have the capacity to influence criminal behavior and alsoeducate and inform the public about complex concepts in law andjustice. In fact, both defense attorneys and prosecutors acknowledgethat crime shows have increased knowledge and awareness of criticalmatters in the criminal justice system that aid their opponents(William cited in Hughes & Magers 2007). As such, criminals arebetter informed in manipulating evidence and handling crime scenes.
Furthermore, increased coverage of real-life criminal cases in themedia has heightened public awareness and interest in CSI shows. Forinstance, the case of OJ Simpson, who was a famous football playeraccused of murdering his former wife and her lover, was widelycovered by major media outlets around the world. Again, the masspublic shooting incidences in the US have been extensively covered bythe press eliciting huge public debates. Given the level of interestthe public shows toward such cases, content producers have taken acue and advanced programs that simulate or even replicate such events(Monachino 2016). They have also added numerous twists in crimes andlegal concepts, some factual and others fictional. In most cases, CSIshows have relied on the thorough collection and investigation ofscientific evidence (Campbell 2009). For the public, differentiatingthe applicability of the scientific processes and legal approaches inthe shows and real life has been problematic. Consequently, manyindividuals tend to trust and believe that CSI shows are credible andthe approach to criminal justice system depicted applies in real life(Hughes & Magers 2007). This development has also affected howthe public responds to crime news as it is informed by pre-existingperceptions of the criminal justice system obtained from CSI shows.
The public is tempted to trust the media to portray nothing but thetruth. Ideally, increased consumption of the media, which is nowwidely integrated, has blurred the line between fiction and facts.The public hardly verifies criminal justice matters portrayed by thepress on their authenticity. Thus, a perceived realism of CSI showsis more likely to influence behavior than otherwise. Such sway mayoccur because "perceived realism may increase the accessibilityof presented content in recall" (Busselle 2001 cited in Maeder &Corbett 2013, p.94). Maeder and Corbett investigated this issuefurther through a study sampling views of 119 participants from aCanadian university. The researchers required participants to respondto questionnaires after reading a 12-page trial transcript involvinga second-degree murder charge where there was evidence of DNA and eyewitnesses. The participants also completed another questionnaire ontheir frequency of watching CSI shows and perceived realism.Correlational analyses revealed a strong link between perceivedrealism of CSI shows and attitudes towards evidence.
Therefore, in the same way that media content influences generalbehavior and beliefs, it also affects views of criminal justice(Tyler 2006). The overreliance on scientific evidence is apparent inCSI shows. As such, jurors may demand evidence such as DNA even whereit does not apply (Lombardo 2007). Maeder and Corbett (2013) assertthat the CSI effect applies not only to the general public, which maybe not well acquainted with legal matters, but also the police,judges, lawyers, and witnesses. In support of this claim, Baskin andSommers (2013) carried out a telephone survey using a random sampleof 1,201 California registered voters. Their findings indicated thatjurors were directly affected in their willingness to acquit orconvict offenders by viewing CSI shows. Hughes and Magers (2007) alsoinvestigated a sample of 58 circuit court judges in Kentucky throughmailed surveys. The data was collected using two sets ofquestionnaires. The first set addressed general issues andfrequencies of court hearings while the second comprised ofstatements based on the Likert scale and discussed matters ofattitude and perceptions. Results showed that, although 58.6% of theparticipants agreed that shows like CSI had impacted theadministration of justice in their courts, nearly 80% stronglydisagreed or disagreed that the CSI shows had affected theirjudgments. Three-quarters of respondents did not agree that the CSIshows had influenced justice in the court in any way.
Consequently, CSI shows have a mostly flawed effect on the criminaljustice system. Tyler (2006) asserts that jurors influenced by CSIeffect are likely to demand unrealistic levels of evidence similar tothe one on TV. In particular, Campbell (2009) cites the TV show, CSIMiami and criticizes the backward approach to the presentation ofevidence. He says that episodes of the show are dependent "onreflection and critical re-telling of events from diverse andsometimes conflicting points of view." He also claims that theshow prefers exposing to seeking confessions. Thus, according toTyler (2006), most jurors who are likely to have been exposed to thisemphasis on scientific evidence can be expected to demand the samefrom court proceedings, which not be practical. Therefore,frequencies of acquittal based on lack of proof may increase thoughthe opposite effect is possible.
Moreover, several mass communication theories recognize the presenceand the potential role of the CSI effect. The cultivation theory,which was initially developed by Gerbner and Gross in 1976,acknowledges the existence of an objective reality that is underminedby the CSI effect. The theory claims that television shapes thepublic`s perception of reality. Accordingly, prolonged exposure to TVshows like Law and Order would increase the CSI effect, whichcontradicts Maeder and Corbett`s (2013) study findings. The agendasetting theory claims that the media does not dictate public thoughtsbut directs their course. Thus, as per this theory, the CSI shows donot dictate on the masses on the realism or impracticality of certainmatters in the criminal justice system but draws their interest tothe topic. Thus, the accusation that the CSI effect is responsiblefor increased cases of acquittal is not well validated.
Alternatively, other forces are responsible for the increased casesof acquittal. Baskin and Sommers (2013) claim that the awareness oftechnologies such as fingerprinting, facial recognition, mobile phonetracking, vehicle GPS, and internet records and their reliability inproviding the truth may have a similar impact as the CSI effect.Irrespective of these alternative views, there is enough evidence toshow that CSI effect exists. The concept appreciates that humanbeings have individual beliefs and pretrial attitudes andpredispositions shaped by their experiences and demographicbackgrounds. Thus, denying the influence of the media on personalconvictions and in particular, the CSI effect, impedes justice.
As discussed above, the CSI effect is a serious issue in theadministration of justice and fairness in the US and around theworld. The fact that the world is more globalized than before andmedia consumption is now less geographically restricted shows thatthis effect will only get larger. Again, the influence is beingexperienced among other actors besides jurors. Thus, it is importantto concede that the media is a major component of the environmentthat is continuously shaping reality for the players in the judicialsystem and the general public. Denying the existence of this effectmay only exacerbate the precarious situation of fairness.Appreciating its existence will go a long way in improving theefficiency of the criminal justice system and help advance fairnessand equality. Therefore, future research should focus on how toregulate the CSI effect and factor it in juror verdicts and decisionsof other actors in the criminal judicial system.
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