The “CSI Effect” in Massachusetts Criminal Cases: What Potential Jurors Can Now Be Asked

Many prosecutors in Massachusetts believe that potential jurors who watch crime television programs like CSI are prone to wrongfully acquit otherwise guilty defendants when little or no scientific evidence has been presented by them in a criminal case. Massachusetts prosecutors claim that this result which has been called the “CSI effect”, can be traced to the CSI television series and other similar shows. However, there is no solid evidence that the CSI effect actually exists. The complaints about the CSI effect, usually in the form of prosecutor interviews after trial or some media stories, do not amount to solid empirical evidence on the issue. A skilled Massachusetts criminal defense attorney will take advantage of the fact that certain scientific tests were not performed on evidence and arguments and inferences can be made from the lack of scientific testing. Jury instructions will also be requested by the defense regarding the lack of investigation and testing.

Yesterday, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court addressed the CSI effect by deciding that potential jurors can now be questioned by prosecutors before they are seated for trial about whether or not they would require indisputable scientific proof in order to find someone guilty of a crime. In upholding the conviction of a defendant charged with murder in a 2003 homicide case, the court rejected the defense argument that the prosecutor’s CSI-related questions prejudiced the jury by suggesting that they should ignore a lack of scientific proof. The defense claimed that such questioning results in dismissing potential jurors that would require more scientific evidence in case. The court stated that the questions, when tailored properly, can ensure that jurors on a given case are able to decide guilt or innocence without any bias. The court also stated that the questions did not favor the prosecution by selecting jurors who were likely to convict a defendant with limited or circumstantial evidence presented by the state.

Juror expectations for scientific or forensic evidence probably depend greatly upon the type of crime involved. If we are dealing with a homicide or rape case, jurors would probably want to see more scientific proof or evidence from the prosecution connecting the defendant to the crime. Certain cases, like firearms or weapons offense, require scientific proof that the gun seized was a working firearm capable of being fired, or that the bullets seized were actually working ammunition. In a drug case, scientific testing must be presented by the government confirming that the defendant was properly charged with possessing or distributing an actual controlled substance in violation of the drug laws. Therefore, a careful balance must be struck so that defendants have their right to a fair trial while requiring the prosecution to proof each and every element of the case beyond a reasonable doubt. Prosecutors must introduce the scientific proof that is required and that jurors would look for or they must be prepared to explain why forensic evidence is not relevant in a case.

Whether your case involves the use of scientific or forensic evidence, it is important to have a dedicated and experienced Massachusetts criminal defense lawyer on your side. The Law Office of Patrick J. Murphy is located in Boston Massachusetts and has been providing successful criminal defense to clients for nearly twenty years. Contact Attorney Patrick Murphy today at 617-367-0450 for a no obligation telephone consultation or complete the contacts form on the website and Attorney Murphy will respond promptly to your inquiry.

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