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Special Assignment: CSI Syndrome

News 12 at 11 o' clock/ May 26, 2011

You have seen them dominating your television screens. You may have just watched one right before us. We're talking about crime solving dramas. Those Criminal Minds, NCIS, and CSI.
How similar are the one hour dramas to reality?

Not as much as you may think. It's putting more pressure on local crime scene investigators and changing the way the legal system operates.

It has been dubbed the CSI Effect.

Since 2000, CBS' CSI:Crime Scene Investigation and its spinoffs have been solving crimes, processing scenes, and investigating cases.

A look at local crime labs reveals, these shows may be giving unrealistic expectations for real-life cases and court.

You may be familiar with the tune. You may recognize the characters and you may think you know their work.

Richmond County crime scene investigator Steve Fanning says, "Their expectations are what they see on TV."

For real crime scene investigators, like in this Richmond County crime lab, it's different.

Investigator Fanning says, "A lot of times when I go process somebody's home, they are very quick to kind of stand there and watch and they are pretty much expecting you to do things like they've seen on TV."

You have seen these scenes. The investigator puts in fingerprints and seconds later a match pops up.

Richmond County crime scene investigator Thomas Johnson says, "They are basically saying that the computer does all the work and they're saying that's him. Where it's actually that the computer assists us in the job but we're the one who are actually putting it in."

Identifying fingerprints can take anywhere from 2 minutes to 2 days and according to them, it definitely doesn't pull up a picture and address.

However, before then, there are different techniques to even getting the prints.

Investigator Fanning says, "A lot of what they do theoretically is correct. Some of the methods they use, some of the chemicals they use, some of the techniques is correct just may be using them for wrong applications.

Exhibit A--my glowing hand. Investigator Fanning says, "It looks cool on tv but in reality, after fingerprinting hundreds and hundreds of scenes, I think we found a standard black powder is just more productive.

Not the flashing florescent powder as seen on TV.

Take exhibit B: Paper or plastic?

Investigator Fanning says, "A lot of times on the television shows you'll see the technicians and crime scene investigators take a plastic bag marked nicely with evidence."

He says that plastic can increase the chances biological material like blood and fingerprint evidence will decompose. So for real CSI's they prefer paper.

Inv. Fanning says, "it's not as shiny and pretty as the plastic one, but it's more proficient."

Then, there is just getting the blood evidence. Often times, you will see the crime scene investigators with these florescent lights as they look for blood, but ironically blood is one of the only bodily fluids that doesn't florese under a blue light.

When they eventually find that DNA evidence, they are quick to prosecute, something that CSIs don't do.

You find DNA evidence in all scenes in reality, but what about when these same CSI fans are real jurors on a real trial.

Augusta Judicial Circuit District Attorney Ashley Wright says, "they always want to have science backing them up but sometimes it's just not always possible."

Are they plagued by the CSI syndrome? The unrealistic expectation as a result of these shows? We asked our area's top prosecutor.

District Attorney Wright says, "what we try to do when we are selecting a jury is make sure that they know what happens on TV is made for entertainment and that they dont hold the real investigators, the real law enforcement, and the real cases to the same standards as entertainment."

During a trial, jurors may be convinced to acquit someone when they don't see the Emmy award-winning type of forensic evidence in the real case.

Wright says, "we've actually started asking questions where we know the answer is going to be negative, such as, did you dust for fingerprints no..why not? Because I couldn't have gotten them in that area because whatever the reason is. We have to explain things in a way that weren't done for legitimate reasons as in the past, I dont think we had to do that."

Crime labs are always trying to keep up with the technology seen on these shows. For Georgia, the district attorney says in recent years, they have started taking buccal swab samples of all who have been convicted to prison, so they are getting more DNA hits.

This line of work is also becoming more popular. More colleges are offering forensic programs and even in high schools, they are seeing more courses being offered.

Mailing Address: P.O. Box 1212 Augusta, GA 30903 Main Telephone: (803) 278-1212 Newsroom: (803) 278-3111 Fax: (803) 442-4561
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