Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Casey Anthony and the CSI Effect

If you have been living anywhere other than inside a cave you have heard about the Casey Anthony case, the woman accused of killing her two year old and lying to her family and authorities about the girl's whereabouts. Just this past week a jury found her not guilty to the murder, manslaughter and child abuse charges citing the lack of physical evidence, though they did convict her of lying to authorities. Granted, I was not on the jury and I was only privy to the information any other public person has had during the course of the trial, but I admit I was stunned by the verdict. The evidence seemed overwhelming and as a mother to me her behavior certainly indicated guilt. This seems to be the opinion of most people in the country seeing the number of calls for Dexter Morgan to rectify the situation. So what went wrong?

The jury cited a lack of forensic evidence to convict. The body of Caylee had been left to the elements for so long that by the time it was found, no forensic evidence could be gathered. I've talked about the CSI effect before where juries have been so influenced by shows like CSI that they expect complete forensic evidence that unequivocally ties a person to a crime. That is simply not possible in most cases and is unrealistic to expect, but as a culture we've become so conditioned to expect evidence to say "yes, she did it" that people seemed to have lost their ability to reason.

Forensic evidence is not always perfect, it may be compromised by time or elements as in this case, there may only be a partial fingerprint, full analysis may not have been performed due to cost and time. Yes, these things are expensive, and yes they do take time. It's not CSI where a speck of blood will tell you who it was and bring up a picture, an address and a full criminal record in minutes. I don't fault CSI. The show is there for entertainment and let's face it, real forensic work is often boring and tedious. Watching an autosampler spin around with a hundred faceless samples would not make good tv.

We just have to remember that shows like that are fiction. They are entertainment and not what anyone should expect when a person goes to sit on a jury. It wasn't that long ago that forensic evidence really began to be used an accepted in the courtroom. Before that juries had to sit and listen to all of the people involved and ask themselves, does this make sense? We seem to have lost some of that ability. Forensic evidence is a valuable tool and has not only put people behind bars, but exonerated them as well, but it is not the only evidence in a case, and it would be a shame if juries forgot that.

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