There's been a lot of talk about a "CSI Effect" -- prosecutors say jurors are unwilling to convict without high-tech evidence. On the other hand, at least one attorney says there's a reverse CSI effect: jurors who like the show will believe any darn thing a forensics expert says. And I heard a forensic expert say he welcomes the effect of jurors understanding a little more about science. (See earlier posts.)
Now some social scientists have conducted an empirical study: Donald Shelton, Young Kim & Gregg Barak, SSRN-A Study of Juror Expectations and Demands Concerning Scientific Evidence: Does the 'CSI Effect' Exist?, forthcoming in Vanderbilt Journal of Entertainment & Technology Law. [Update (March 27, 2008): The published version is at 9 Vand. J. Entertainment & Tech. L. 331 (2006). You can download a copy here.] Here's the abstract:
Many prosecutors, judges and journalists have claimed that watching television shows like CSI have caused jurors to wrongfully acquit guilty defendants when no scientific evidence is presented. This is the first empirical study designed to investigate whether the "CSI effect" exists.Update (March 27, 2008): Judge Donald E. Shelton, one of the authors of the study, wrote a shorter piece about it in the National Institute of Justice's NIJ Journal, March 17, 2008: The 'CSI Effect': Does It Really Exist?. Thanks: WisBlawg.
This survey of 1027 persons called for jury duty in a State court looked at jurors' television viewing habits, their expectations that the prosecutor would produce scientific evidence, and whether they would demand scientific evidence as a condition of a guilty verdict.
While the study did find significant expectations and demands for scientific evidence, there was little or no indication of a link between those preconceptions and watching particular television shows. The authors suggest that to the extent that jurors have significant expectations and demands for scientific evidence, it may have more to do with a broader "tech effect" in our popular culture, and that the criminal justice system must adapt to accommodate jurors' expectations and demands for scientific evidence.