A recent NPR story has publicized a study showing that juries do not hold unreasonable standards for evidence. This so-called “CSI effect” was believed to make juries skeptical of anything but the most high-tech, indisputable evidence, but it turns out that it amounted to little more than prosecutors winging after losing cases. The pithy verdict is,
Jurors do expect to see scientific evidence in murder cases, but their expectations have nothing to do with the TV shows they watch.
As explained by Judge Donald Shelton, who led the study, “Blaming CSI or any television show is just too simplistic. It’s much bigger than that.” As the NPR story explains,
Jurors don’t need to watch CSI to be aware of advances in technology. They’re more likely to be affected by the technology in their own pocket. Shelton’s study showed that owning the latest BlackBerry has a much bigger impact on how jurors evaluate scientific evidence.
In other words, it’s a case of citizens’ views changing in response to a changing world–not in response to a changing diet of television dramas. Seen in a bigger frame, this is just another example of skeptics doubting the capacity of everyday citizens to govern themselves (via the jury) but the empirical evidence suggesting otherwise.