ATLANTA -- Law enforcement officials say crime scene shows like "CSI" and "Law and Order" distort the public's view of death investigations. And in some cases, they say the shows make it difficult to get convictions in court.
Some prosecutors say it can lead to defendants being acquitted because a juror's expectations can't be met. Gwinnett County District Attorney Danny Porter said because of the proliferation of shows that portray crime scene investigations, the public sometimes sees death investigations in an unrealistic way. "CSI Las Vegas had a profound effect," he said. "Then as the success of that show grew, and the number of related spin off shows grew, the effect grew."
Porter said trial attorneys have had to adapt their tactics and techniques to jurors who watch those shows. "We have to prepare an explanation of why we didn't do something," he said. "Why didn't we get fingerprints? Why didn't we swab for DNA?"
Porter said the so-called "CSI Effect" has had an impact on how police collect evidence and how prosecutors select jurors. "If they watch them and believe them, then you might have somebody who goes on your jury with expectations that simply can't be met," he said.
It has probably had the biggest effect on crime lab scientists. At the GBI crime lab, scientists are doing triple the DNA tests they did seven years ago, and they blame it on television shows. "They expect there to be DNA on every case, on every sample in every case," said crime lab director Dr. George Herrin. "If there are 500 blood stains at the crime scene, they expect all 500 of them to be tested and that really doesn't make any sense."
Porter said the top three misconceptions people have from watching crime scene shows are:
1- DNA can be tested instantly, and it means a suspect is guilty.
"The mere fact that there is DNA at a crime scene doesn't necessarily mean that person who is charged committed the crime or didn't commit the crime," Porter said.
2- A DNA sample or finger print can be entered into a national database and immediately pull up a suspect.
"There is a national database, but only certain people are in it," Porter said. "We're not fingerprinted at birth, and we're not DNA-ed at birth, so not everybody in the country is in the database."
3- A blurry photograph can be enhanced to clarity for identification.
"What's on the image on the camera can only be enhanced to a very limited extent, and it has more to do with the capability of the camera than it does to do with anything else," Porter said. "We're not capable of much more than you can do on your computer in Photoshop."
Misconceptions aside, Porter said the CSI Effect sets a higher bar for prosecutors in court. "And that can be a good thing, as long as the expectations in court can be met," he said.