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This places a significant burden upon the labs and the forensic experts that prosecutors depend on to produce forensic evidence. The article explains that there is a serious problem associated with crime lab ethics, which has been heightened in recent years. The article asserts that many crime labs have been cited for sloppy procedures and producing erroneous evidence (Morrison and Roane, 2005). The fact that crime labs are not required to be accredited adds to the problem because there are not any standard procedures that govern the management of the labs. Under new laws all federally funded crime labs will have to be accredited by 2006 but currently 30% of the federally funded crime labs do not have any accredidation (Morrison and Roane, 2005).
The article also reports that many experts such as crime lab technicians, coroners, forensic anthropologists and police chemists have been fired for presenting erroneous evidence in recent years (Morrison and Roane, 2005). The article asserts that It's hard to find anyone in law enforcement who can't recite a story of quackery on the stand or in the lab. Forensic practitioners say the popularity of the field may make things even worse, noting that new forensics-degree programs are cropping up all over the place, some turning out questionable candidates...Because of the weight the analysis is now given, professional ethics and certification of labs has never been more important (Morrison and Roane, 2005)."
Another article explains that there is a trend underway in the United States to hold expert witnesses accountable in civil court for supplying erroneous information during a trial. Botluk & Mitchell (2005) assert that such witnesses were, at one time granted absolute immunity, some jurisdictions are now allowed for civil liability if the expert has been negligent (Botluk & Mitchell (2005). In some cases the article reports that experts have falsified lab results and planted evidence (Botluk & Mitchell (2005). These actions can be costly because they put into question the integrity of the entire forensic system and the previous cases that may have resulted in conviction (Botluk & Mitchell (2005).
Indeed many have conceded that the way to address issues related to ethics and evidence tampering is to increase funding for crime labs in addition to creating and making mandatory accreditation of the labs. Some experts have even asserted that crime labs are the most neglected area of public safety throughout the nation. Experts have also argued that crime labs should be accredited much in the same way that hospitals are accredited.
Morrison & Sloane (2005) also concede that even if a crime lab is certified there are still mistakes made. The authors explain that accredited crime labs are usually required to gauge their tactics through declarative tests (Morrison & Sloane 2005). However in most cases the lab workers are aware that they are being tested. In most cases the labs pass these tests, however some forensic experts argue that these planned tests do nothing to evaluate the everyday performance of the lab (Morrison & Sloane 2005). Not knowing the way that a crime lab operates in general can be detrimental to ensuring that the evidence gathered at a crime scene is correctly and thoroughly tested.
Moreover there are often discrepancies in the manner in which evidence taken from a crime scene is sampled. This often means that forensic evidence cannot always be believed (Morrison & Sloane 2005). For instance, although DNA testing is the most accurate type of forensic science, there are often differences in the interpretation of DNA evidence (Morrison & Sloane 2005).
In addition on the television shows there is a belief that the tactics being utilized are exact. However, the authors point out that many test are open for interpretation. For instance, everything from fingerprint identification to fiber analysis is now coming under fire. And rightfully so. The science is inexact, the experts are of no uniform opinion, and defense lawyers are increasingly skeptical...many of these techniques and theories have never been tested to ensure they are valid (Morrison and Roane, 2005)."
Indeed the pressure placed on prosecutors can be enormous especially when there is an enormous backlog of evidence at labs needing to be tested. According to an article on BBC News there are between 200,000 and 300,000 DNA samples in U.S. labs waiting to be tested (Rincon 2005).
The article also contends that families of victims are also influenced by the CSI effect. For instance, on the television shows toxicology reports are often available rapidly and when families discover that such reports can actually take months to get they are dissatisfied (Rincon 2005).
Defense attorneys also take advantage of the expectations that jurors have. For instance a defense attorney may ask why the prosecution did not provide certain types of evidence (Toobin: "CSI" makes jurors more demanding). In some cases such questions are founded but quite often the type of evidence in question was not found or the testing of such evidence is not available (Toobin: "CSI" makes jurors more demanding).
According to Stockwell (2005) some defense attorneys use the lack of forensic evidence to place doubt in the minds of jurors. The article asserts that such doubt can be place in jurors' minds "even when there are eyewitness accounts, confessions on other compelling evidence (Stockwell 2005)
Overall it seems that crime labs in particular have been greatly affected by the pressure to produce concrete evidence as a result of the expectations placed on prosecutors. These prosecutors encounter a great deal of pressure form victims' families and jurors to present evidence that will convict a criminal. This pressure is in turn placed on those responsible for producing or validating the evidence. Such pressures lead some to falsify the evidence or to plant evidence to get a conviction. Such actions threaten to jeopardize the entire legal system and can result in mistrials and sending innocent people to jail.
Although references to CSI by jurors may seem benign they can become malignant if the judicial system is adversely impacted by the fiction being presented as fact on such shows.
Positive impact of the CSI Effect
Although many believe that the CSI Effect has tainted potential jurors and placed unfair burdens on prosecutors, some believe that the CSI effect has had a positive impact on the judicial system. Many assert that this effect forces police officers to investigate crime scenes more thoroughly. This effect holds police officers accountable for the way that they investigate crimes. The officers know that if they do not bring strong forensic evidence into court the perpetrator might be acquitted.
In addition, a CNN article asserts that the CSI Effect has a positive impact on prosecutors and police departments because it forces them to spend more money (Toobin: "CSI" makes jurors more demanding). This money allows the departments to get better technology and hire qualified technicians who can produce accurate results (Toobin: "CSI" makes jurors more demanding).
It is evident that the CSI effect can have some positive effects of the way that law enforcement handles crime. Indeed with the recent onslaught of cases where people were imprisoned for crimes that they did not commit, crime for which DNA evidence later found tem innocent -- the CSI effect could be positive. The CSI effect forces jurors to really investigate the issue because in many of the aforementioned cases some defendants were intimidated into confessing the crime.
Such was the case of the central park jogger, which involved four juveniles that confessed to the crime of rape.
However, after the young men had already spent many years in prison it was found that the confessions were coerced, and that a single assailant already in jail had actually committed the rape and there was DNA evidence to support this. Had the CSI effect been present at the time that the young men were convicted perhaps they would have spent that time behind bars being punished for a crime that they did not commit. So then, the CSI Effect does have some redeeming qualities.
Coping with the CSI Effect
According to Botluk & Mitchell (2005) there are ways to address the issues related to the impact of the CSI Effect on Jurors. For instance, the National Clearinghouse for science, Technology ad the Law at Stetson College of Law was formed to address this very issue. The authors report that the clearinghouse provides resources that gather and track information related to technology and forensics (Botluk & Mitchell (2005). The clearinghouse is designed to decipher between useful information and information that is questionable (Botluk & Mitchell (2005). The purpose of this is to reintroduce jurors to the realities of the justice system -- which are separate from those depicted on television (Botluk & Mitchell (2005).
The clearinghouse is also designed to aid forensic experts as it relates to matters of ethics and preventing civil liability and jeopardizing cases (Botluk & Mitchell (2005).…[continue]
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