NPR recently reported on a study done by Michigan Judge Donald Shelton, which focused on people called for jury duty. He wanted to see if the so-called CSI effect was real and increased jurors' expectations that technology can solve crimes at the speed of light. I will interject here that I had to banish CSI from our household viewing list because John routinely became so incensed at CSI's computer forensics inaccuracies. The CSI effect in our house involved a great deal of yelling at the TV in disgust - hence CSI's permanent banishment.
What the judge found was that the jurors were more sophisticated than many might expect and understood, for instance, "that DNA doesn't come back in 20 minutes." But the study also found that, jurors who owned sophisticated technology, like BlackBerrys and other smartphones, were more likely to expect prosecutors to present scientific evidence.
The judge concluded "Like the unicorn and the mermaid, the CSI effect is a myth."
I found the study very interesting and believe that its findings are largely accurate. However, the judge's definition of the "CSI effect" was fairly limited. We have found that, using a broader definition, there is a CSI effect. It is often clear that in a battle between two testifying computer forensics experts, the one who projects the CSI effect - scientific, unflappable under cross, backed up by testimony and exhibits which demonstrate the truth of the matter in an irrefutable way - is likely to be the winner in the duel, and frequently the winner in the case.
We have often heard from judge and jurors alike (they even use the exact words) that John projects a CSI effect and they simply believe everything he says. This of course is one of the many reasons that I went into business with John, but there is genuine truth in the notion that expert witness selection is critical. We've seen some superb computer forensics technologists who simply don't present well on the stand. Their gift is their skill as a technologist but not as a testifying expert. And of course, there are a good many folks testifying whose skills as a forensic examiner are decidedly lacking and they get eaten alive by experts who not only have the truth on their side, but present well as a witness.
As a practice tip, I always tell attorneys to do a bit of examination when they are interviewing a potential testifying expert. The good experts don't mind at all - and while the examination in a private setting isn't always conclusive, it can give the attorney a good idea of the expert's depth and breadth or knowledge, ability to explain complex things in a straight-forward manner and ability to think quickly when pelleted with questions.
So, with my definition of CSI effect, yes Virginia, there is one - and it is a potent weapon in court.
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