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What is the CSI Effect? 

The American television series CSI: Crime Scene Investigation originally aired in October 2000 and has gained popularity over the years because of its exaggerated portrayal of forensic science that truly captivated the viewer. Which leads us to the question: what exactly is the CSI Effect?

Due to CSI’s influence, many jurors have started to request more evidence from the prosecution during trials, which in turn raises the standard of proof required for a conviction can be made.

About the TV Series

CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, is a television program that aired first in 2000. The plot is about a group of crime scene investigators who decodes killings in the Las Vegas metropolitan area. In every episode, a human corpse is discovered, which then leads to a criminal investigation by the CSI team, who collect and examine forensic evidence, question witnesses, and eventually apprehend their suspects. 

The show’s massive popularity led to three spin-offs: CSI: Miami, which started in 2002; CSI: NY, which began in 2004; and CSI: Cyber, which was released in 2015. Needless to say, the show has greatly influenced the TV industry, resulting in other similar shows associated with drama and true crime.

Although, some aspects of popular crime shows have been criticized for being unrealistic. For instance, in CSI, the process timeline for obtaining DNA and fingerprint data usually results within hours. But in reality, it would take several weeks or even months when data is not available.

The concept that these inaccurate portrayals could change the public perception of forensic evidence was proclaimed the CSI Effect. This term began to appear in mainstream media as early as 2004 as it truly changed the way real court cases were handled. (Source: NCSTL

Manifestations of the CSI Effect

While we are fully aware of how much mainstream media influences our daily lives, the CSI Effect has changed the way trials are carried out.

In Court Hearings

The popularity of forensic crime television shows allegedly raises numerous misunderstandings about the essence of forensic science and investigation procedures among jury members.

The CSI effect is believed to impact rulings in two significant ways: first, jurors anticipate additionally forensic evidence than is available or necessary, resulting in a higher rate of acquittal when such evidence is absent; and second, jurors have ampler certainty in forensic and particularly DNA evidence than is merited, resulting in a more increased rate of conviction when such evidence is available. (Source: Tru TV)

In the Academe

The CSI effect has also affected how forensic scientists are educated and qualified. The popularity of programs has induced an upsurge in need for undergraduate courses and graduate programs in forensic science.

Although the increased popularity of forensics programs means more applicants for jobs at crime labs, there is some concern that these courses do not adequately prepare students for real forensics work, as graduates often lack a firm grasp of basic scientific principles that would come from a science degree. (Source: BBC)

In Actual Crimes

The CSI effect may also alter how crimes are perpetrated. In 2000, when CSI: Crime Scene Investigation debuted, 46.9% of all rape cases in the United States were settled by police. By 2005, the rate had dropped to 41.3%. Some investigators attributed this downfall to the CSI effect, as crime often shows how criminals can hide or eliminate evidence. Several rape victims have reported that their assailants forced them to shower or clean themselves with bleach after their assaults. (Source: Questia

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