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The CSI Effect
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Credit: Tex Texin
Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/textexin/3612094774/
License: CC BY-NC 3.0

If you've watched a crime show on television, you’ve seen how dilation supposedly works in the real world. Investigators use computers to dilate photographs, and the larger pictures yield information about license plates, addresses, or criminals. Some experts don't like these shows. They say television makes the process look too easy. They’re worried that the popularity of crime shows may actually damage jury trials.

A Drama, Not a Documentary

Crime shows like CSI: Crime Scene Investigation and its spin-offs dramatize the crime lab process. For instance, technicians on CSI regularly use dilation to enlarge photos and videos. In real life, however, dilation is not so easy. Most of the time, when you enlarge a blurry photo, you still can’t make out key details like license plate numbers or signs in the background. It's rare that a reflection in someone’s glasses would give useful information. Even worse, on CSI, lab tests like DNA analysis only take about 15 minutes. In the real world, it can take months to get DNA test results.

Credit: University of Michigan School of Natural Resources & Environment
Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/snre/6800805602/
License: CC BY-NC 3.0

The problem is that while these shows are entertaining, some Americans mistake them for reality. This can cause major problems in real-life courtrooms. Juries unrealistically expect every case to include DNA evidence. They think prosecutors should use technology that doesn't exist in the real world. Legal experts call this the "CSI effect." It means that lawyers and judges need to educate juries about what technology can and can’t do for a criminal investigation.

See for yourself: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LB6xDDgj1xY

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Even when crime labs perform many tests on evidence collected at the scene of a crime, forensic scientists can still make mistakes. Read on for examples of times when DNA evidence turned out to be false.

http://www.reviewjournal.com/news/crime-courts/las-vegas-police-reveal-dna-error-put-wrong-man-prison

http://www.cbsnews.com/2100-500164_162-555723.html

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/7966641.stm

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/18/science/18dna.html?_r=0

Image Attributions

  1. [1]^ Credit: Tex Texin; Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/textexin/3612094774/; License: CC BY-NC 3.0
  2. [2]^ Credit: University of Michigan School of Natural Resources & Environment; Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/snre/6800805602/; License: CC BY-NC 3.0

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