The CSI effect is a shift in social attitudes about forensic science attributed to the rise of television dramas featuring forensics in the early 2000s, including CBS's CSI: Crime Scene Investigation franchise. Some members of the law enforcement and forensics community argue that the prevalence of such shows has changed the way jurors think about forensic evidence and may also have an impact on criminal activity. The CSI effect has also been fingered for the rise of interest in forensic science and the increasing numbers of students in forensic science programs interested in pursuing careers in this field.
Television shows depicting forensics often show an idealized version of the science, complete with technology and techniques not widely available and sometimes not even in existence. People who regularly view such shows can come away with specific ideas about the reliability and integrity of forensic evidence. These ideas may lead jurors to expect to see more forensic evidence in trials or to weigh such evidence more heavily than they would otherwise. It can also create a false sense of confidence when it comes to understanding such evidence, leading jurors to make decisions in defiance of testimony provided during a trial.
Some people claim the CSI effect contributes to wrongful convictions as a result of jurors believing forensic evidence over other materials, even when the evidence is questioned. Others think it can contribute to false acquittals, as a crafty prosecutor can highlight apparent holes in the forensics, leading jurors to think the information presented is suspect. Much of the evidence for both sides is anecdotal and there is some debate about the impact of crime dramas on jurors.
Criminals may be influenced by the content on such shows to try and take steps to conceal crimes and make forensic evidence harder to uncover and use. Some people have suggested that the CSI effect should be a cause for concern, making it advisable to censor or alter the material presented in crime dramas to avoid giving criminals ideas. Others suggest the criminals have ample resources for research and doubt the influence of the CSI effect on successful investigation and prosecution of crimes.
Some forensic scientists feel that crime dramas can increase scientific literacy by exposing people to complex concepts, laying the groundwork for presenting material in court. Others believe it creates a false sense of confidence or a skewed image of forensic science. Evidence in the real world is rarely as perfect and neatly presented as it is on television, and jurors may not understand why evidence presented in court is sometimes unclear and inconclusive, but still valid and useful.