‘CSI’ Had a Major Impact on Real-Life Investigations

by Lauren Boisvert
Photo: Bill Inoshita/CBS ©2021 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

“CSI” began in 2000, and it definitely affected the way the police investigate cases now. It’s important to know that the “CSI” crime lab is fictionalized and dramatized. But, there are certain aspects of crime-solving that the show influenced.

There’s definitely been an uptick in how much emphasis jurors put on forensic evidence since 2000. Experts called this the “CSI Effect”, and the National Institute of Justice actually did an investigation into the phenomenon. According to Looper, there was no evidence that jurors outright won’t convict without forensic evidence, but there were still a few surprising trends.

The National Institute of Justice found that “a higher percentage of respondents expected to see DNA evidence in the more serious violent offenses.” Rape cases were the example, with 73% of jurors expecting forensic evidence in order to convict. 46% of jurors wanted DNA evidence for murder or attempted murder. For those cases that don’t have forensic evidence, there was the fear of wrongful acquittal.

The study found that jurors who watched “CSI” weren’t demanding forensic evidence in order to convict on every case. But, they did have higher expectations for cases with forensic evidence. These expectations translated into requesting forensic evidence on cases with only circumstantial evidence. The “CSI Effect” really just created a demand for more thorough investigation before a verdict.

How the Real CSI Differs from the Show

In Las Vegas, Nevada, the real crime scene investigators want everyone to know that the job is really nothing like the show. Kimberly Murga, Las Vegas Metropolitan police’s director of laboratory services, told 8 News Now in Oct., “I really wish we could solve crime in 60 minutes.”

Said Kristin Grammas, the director of Metro’s CSI unit, “[“CSI: Vegas'” crime lab] is all fancy and they have glass offices and cool lighting. Ours is fluorescent lightbulbs so it’s not as cool, but we still have a lot of the cool technologies that they have on the show.”

8 News Now explained that when a crime occurs, crime scene analysts will arrive on the scene. They bag and tag any evidence they find – blood, hair, fingerprints, etc. – and then send it back to the forensics lab. “What we do is exciting behind the scenes, but it takes time and it’s not resolved quickly,” said Murga.

The two administrators, Murga and Grammas, noted that they don’t go out into the field anymore in their roles as directors. Unlike Maxine Roby, who still processes evidence on “CSI: Vegas” while simultaneously being the boss.

Murga spoke about the changes in DNA technology. She stated how testing a blood sample the size of a quarter used to take months. Now, they can test a blood sample the size of a pinhead and get results in hours.