Hollywood Impacting Baltimore Juries, Prosecutors Say; "The CSI Effect" and How Cases Are Really Handled


BALTIMORE (AP) -- In Hollywood, the crime, investigation and trial are all handled in an hour. Complete with DNA, fingerprints and other irrefutable scientific evidence of guilt -- voila -- cases are handled from start to finish, even with commercial interruptions.

In Baltimore, jurors are expecting that, prosecutors say, and they're not getting it.

Prosecutors call it: "the CSI effect".

It's named after CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, the No. 1 rated show in the country, reaching nearly 30 million viewers weekly, according to Nielsen Media research.

Lawyers and scientists have noticed an unintended consequence: Jurors increasingly expect to encounter in the courtroom what they've seen on television.

"Jurors are so influenced by television to the point that it makes it nearly impossible for us," said Baltimore's Deputy State's Attorney Haven Kodeck.

When Kodeck conducts orientation for grand juries, the first thing he does is explain the difference between real cases and made-for-television plots.

"I tell everyone, 'If you watch CSI, please put it out of your mind,"' he said. "People expect us to produce what TV produces, and that's just not reality."

But in two recent cases, Baltimore jurors said they needed more physical evidence to convict.

In one case, they disbelieved a priest's testimony about who robbed him at gunpoint. In another, they refused to convict despite the word of an 11-year-old girl who came to court and pointed out the man who she said shot her father.

"I would have liked some kind of evidence, like finding the gun with fingerprints," said Phil Cunneff, an alternate juror in the DeAndre Whitehead murder case, which included the small child as a witness.

After the verdict in the priest's case -- in which a man was charged with holding up a parish -- jury foreman Candace Blankenship said: "There should have been some other evidence from the church."

However, the priest, the Rev. Mike Orchik, thought his testimony, along with the testimony of another victim of the robbery, ought to be enough to convict the defendant.

"I thought I'd identified him very strongly," Orchik said.

Fewer than 10 percent of the homicide cases in the Baltimore state's attorney's office involve fingerprint or DNA evidence, according to Donald Giblin, deputy chief of the division.

"I don't watch the shows because it raises the hair on the back of my neck," he said.

Thomas Mauriello, a forensic scientist and adjunct professor at the University of Maryland, College Park, said there is a disconnect because many jurors across the country believe they're actually learning something about the criminal justice system when they watch television dramas.

"What's happening is every day people are watching the TV show and they think they're being educated as well as entertained," Mauriello said. "When they are a member of a real case, they think they have knowledge of the scientific progress. They think the police didn't do their job because they didn't find a fingerprint. We're polluting jury pools."

Baltimore State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy, who is on the board of the National District Attorneys Association, said the CSI effect is reaching across the nation.

"Everybody is complaining about it," Jessamy said of her peers in other states. "It's become a standing joke."

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