Based on the previous discussions, the “CSI effect” can be seen as a derivative of Gerbner’s cultivation theory. Portrayals in crime television shows, especially those along the lines of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, demonstrate how, similar to the perceptions towards Grey’s Anatomy, forensic pathologists are regarded to have the answers and solutions to any criminal incident. In addition to the previous explanation of what the “CSI effect” is, Smith, et al. (2008, p. 81) present further description on this phenomenon especially in relation to possible juror perception:
“The techniques presented on these shows are usually plausible, as the show’s producers are careful to use technically possible investigative tools, but surveys of police professionals suggest these techniques are far from common… given the relative “inaccuracy” of these television programs, it is quite possible that viewers (and potential jurors) may be learning incorrect information from these televised dramas. Importantly, a recurring theme in these programs is that the quality of scientific evidence is so good that the criminal is almost always caught and usually confesses in light of the overwhelming evidence against him…”
The CSI effect has been therefore discussed by some literature, from the growing perceived dependence on forensic evidence as the most reliable evidence (Turow, 2004) to the possible influence of shows like CSI on the secondary school science curriculum, especially as the show may elicit further demands on better quality approaches to laboratory work (Mardis, 2006). Apparently, shows like CSI and its numerous spin-offs have garnered a significant amount of popularity that crime-scene dramas have garnered a segment in the context of the cultivation theory.
A notable empirical study on the CSI effect was the initiative conducted by the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office (2005). Basically, the study presented that the “CSI effect” has been observed by some local prosecutors especially as to how this effect have actually made an impact to jury decisions. Among the surveyed prosecutors who participated in the study, 38% expressed that they had experienced at least one trial where the CSI effect had an influence in jury decisions in Maricopa County.
This observation was based on the jury’s decision to acquit based on the lack of forensic evidence despite the presence of strong testimonies from the victims themselves. In addition, the report also mentioned that in Maricopa County, prosecutors could talk to the jurors post-trial, hence, the surveyed prosecutors gathered that the CSI effect was present because of the jurors’ views on the trial. The surveyed prosecutors also mentioned some instances when jurors expected sophisticated forensic evidence or at the very least, some basic evidences such as fingerprints although some trial cases do not necessarily have to utilize such tools.
Basically, this report does not present a direct evidence from the jurors that the force behind their reasoning was due to the “CSI effect”, but rather, the prosecutors observed the “CSI effect” more of as a phenomenon that resulted from the cultivated capabilities of these crime shows to the minds of the audiences that the actual police and crime investigation forces result to such sophisticated methods.
What is also interesting is that, as can be seen from the report, heightened expectations from the prosecution started to become more present especially when it comes to the burden of presenting sufficient forensic proof that would elicit even the idea of an arrest.
The study therefore concluded that in Maricopa County, there was the perception among the members of the legal and justice system, from lawyers to prosecutors, and the prospective jurors from the locality, as to the validity of shows such as CSI. The validity is mainly based on the perceived role of forensic evidence as integral to the resolution of a case, which is why, as the report noted, there have been initiatives from the local judges to ensure that the jury would overcome the “CSI effect”.