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Do Crime Documentaries Make Jury Selection More Difficult?

Posted in General FAQ'S on May 23, 2016

TV and cinema have a strange effect on an audience. Especially in a world where anyone can go online and share his or her expertise after watching a few episodes of Making a Murderer, it seems that everyone has an opinion about the way laws work or how a particular case should go. This may not be a new phenomenon, but it is certainly shaping our attitudes toward the courtroom today – and it may be influencing jury members in an alarming way.

The Golden Era of Television – And Its Effect on Jury Bias

If you’ve seen an episode of Dexter or Sons of Anarchy, you may think you have an idea of how blood splatter analysis or the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act work. That’s fine – these shows are supposed to entertain, and they’ve clearly done their job. This becomes a problem, though, when jury members take their “expertise” with them into courtrooms. This is known as the “CSI effect,” which first emerged when shows like Law and Order and CSI became popular in the 1990s. It manifests in the following ways:

Mistaken scientific proficiency. Jurors believe they have an intimate understanding of an issue presented in one of these shows. For example, they may think they understand how ballistics work and fail to filter that “knowledge” when they form an opinion about a case.

Evidence expectations. After a lifetime of courtroom stories and twist endings on the silver screen, most people could probably write a clichéd script full of surprise witnesses, DNA evidence, and other incriminating clues. Though we’ve all seen this at the box office, the real world is different. Regardless, people expect such evidence to be presented – particularly in cases involving murder, rape, and gun crimes.

If this information is not available, it may reflect badly on the prosecution or defendant regardless of the truth. This also places a burden on any expert witnesses, who must meet the jury’s expectations regarding the evidence presented. Unfortunately, when people expect particularly exciting or incriminating details and none are available, it may lead the jury to the wrong conclusions.

Entertainment expectations. Finally, the popularity of well-narrated and produced true-crime stories like Making a Murderer and Paradise Lost sets some jury members up to expect a thrilling, well-articulated case – a whodunit mystery that will unravel with a startling confession or final submission into evidence before the case closes. Reality is often far duller.

This presents a problem when evidence is either not compelling enough or an attorney does not have a certain presence in the courtroom. Though these issues were associated with a weak or ineffective case long before television, many people are now more demanding about how they expect defendants, plaintiffs, lawyers, and judges to act.

Presenting Your Case in a Modern Courtroom

There’s plenty to consider before presenting a case before a jury. Although the CSI effect is interesting, it isn’t the only type of bias you may encounter. It’s incredibly important that you’re well represented in any courtroom.

Graham Donath has decades of combined experience fighting for clients’ rights in Riverside and Orange counties. Though most cases settle out of court, we’re willing and prepared to articulate how you were wronged and the rights to which you are entitled. Courtrooms undergo a variety of screening processes to ensure all potential biases are eliminated. We take an active role throughout these proceedings, well before and beyond your court date.

Don’t forfeit your rights to an attorney who is neither confident nor familiar with California’s numerous laws.  Contact Graham Donath today to set up a consultation, and we’ll put you on the path to a successful claim.