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How do Fictional Crime Dramas Affect Public Perception of Forensic Science?

The profession of forensic science has gained huge popularity in recent years thanks to television programs such as CSI and Silent Witness. These programs utilise different disciplines of forensic science including pathology, DNA, toxicology and digital. With this in mind, just how accurate is the science behind a TV drama?

Due to the increasing popularity of crime dramas and the use of forensic science, members of the public may be forgiven for believing they have a sound understanding of forensic science principles. Known in the industry as the “CSI effect”, it is having an effect in the courtroom.

According to a paper by Dr Robbers in 2008, 62% of defence lawyers and 69% of judges thought that jurors had unrealistic expectations of forensic science. This is not only leading to an increase in the time it takes to select a jury but also for the judge to explain to the jury why certain types of evidence are not relevant.

Another perspective is from that of the criminal, they do watch television as well. Although the science isn’t completely accurate some of the techniques employed certainly are. It is true that bleach could be used to destroy DNA and gloves can be worn to avoid leaving fingerprints. It is for this reason that the field of forensic science must continue to evolve and stay one step ahead.

There can also be a positive side to the CSI effect. In one American court case the jury asked the judge if a cigarette butt had been tested for DNA belonging to the defendant. As a matter of fact it had but the defence had failed to provide the DNA test results as evidence. Once the evidence was introduced the defendant was exonerated and acquitted.

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