DA Fears Juries Put Evidence on Trial

Article excerpt

Sitting as a juror in a courtroom may be nothing like watching a television show like "CSI."

That's exactly why local prosecutors are asking prospective jurors what they watch on television.

"It's something every prosecutor should consider, depending on the circumstances of the case," said Westmoreland County District Attorney John Peck.

As a part of criminal court trials, Westmoreland prosecutors are asking prospective jurors whether they watch "CSI," "CSI Miami," "CSI New York," "Crossing Jordan" and "Law & Order."

Then they ask jurors if the prosecution must present scientific or forensic evidence such as DNA or fingerprints to successfully prove every case.

It is the drama, and the suggestion offered by those highly popular television shows that most court cases turn on such detailed scientific evidence, that has legal experts worried about something being called the CSI Effect.

Westmoreland County Judge Richard E. McCormick Jr. has already presided over several trials in which jurors were asked about their television viewing habits.

"Their ratings are pretty good here. They're watching," McCormick said.

Attorneys worry that forensic evidence they present won't live up to the fictionalized findings offered on TV.

"Given the number of people who watch these shows, I can see why prosecutors want to ask about it," said Jane Campbell Moriarty, a visiting law professor at the University of Pittsburgh and the author of the book, "Psychological and Scientific Evidence in Criminal Trials."

Moriarty, who works full time as a legal evidence expert at the University of Akron School of Law, said that court cases rarely rely on complicated forensic evidence.

That's a far cry from what is depicted on TV, where in the course of an hour a crime is committed and investigators use the latest and most technologically advanced equipment to find DNA, hair samples and fingerprints to win a conviction.

"Jurors think forensic evidence is infallible, and it is not. There is a concern raised from prosecutors that jurors are expecting that type of evidence they see on "CSI," Moriarty said.

Real-life jurors likely want to see evidence such as DNA or fingerprints, Moriarty said. …