Conrad Murray Trial: What Is the CSI Effect?

By Stephanie Rabiner, Esq. on September 27, 2011 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Jury selection in the Conrad Murray trial has concluded, and opening statements are set to begin Tuesday. Though jurors have been instructed not to read or watch any related news media, some concerns about their prior viewing habits may still exist.

Do they require a smoking gun? An eye witness? A recording of Michael Jackson's death? Are juror expectations grounded in reality or television?

The phrase "CSI effect" has been tossed around a lot in connection with this trial. So what is the CSI effect and why are prosecutors so concerned?

Television programs like CSI have opened the world of forensic pathology to an entire nation. However, there is some concern that jurors have developed unrealistic expectations as a result.

These unrealistic expectations are known as the CSI effect. And they're being blamed for a number of high-profile verdicts, including that in the Casey Anthony trial.

There is a belief that jurors have come to expect hardcore scientific evidence. They want physical proof of guilt. Anything less and they're not willing to convict.

The overriding problem is that such evidence often doesn't exist. Most prosecutions have historically relied on circumstantial evidence. Criminals don't often leave DNA, or fiber traces. Eye witnesses may not come forward.

More often than not, jurors will be asked to make an inference of guilt from other, indirect evidence.

Jurors operating under the CSI effect won't be able, or willing, to do this.

The Conrad Murray trial is particularly vulnerable to the CSI effect. There is an abundance of conflicting evidence, and the only person who knows what happens is dead. Jurors will need to sort through hours of circumstantial testimony, and are unlikely to find a smoking gun.

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