The CBS’ Nielsen-topping series CSI and its NYC and Miami spin-offs are having a profound effect on juries, trials and law enforcement. But is hair and fibre analysis actually passé in crime-fighting? That’s the basis for Jeffrey Toobin’s article in the upcoming New Yorker. because of the show, “criminalists have acquired an air of glamour, and its practitioners an aura of infallibility … But the fictional criminalists speak with a certainty that their real-life counterparts do not,” Toobin writes. He quotes Lisa Faber, a criminalist and the supervisor of the N.Y.P.D. crime lab’s hair-and-fibre unit, as saying that, in her field, “The terminology is very important. On TV, they always like to say words like ‘match,’ but we say ‘similar,’ or ‘could have come from’ or ‘is associated with.’ The fact is that “virtually all the forensic-science tests depicted on CSI—including analyses of bite marks, blood spatter, handwriting, firearm and tool marks, and voices, as well as of hair and fibres—rely on the judgments of individual experts and cannot easily be subjected to statistical verification,” Toobin writes. And that’s coming under fire. “Given the advent of DNA analysis, some legal scholars argue that older, less reliable tests, such as hair and fibre analysis, should no longer be allowed in court. Last week, a commission on forensic science sponsored by the National Academy of Sciences held an open session in Washington at which several participants questioned the validity of hair and fibre evidence.” But Faber said prosecutors still introduce fibre evidence because they think the juries like it because it’s “more CSI-esque”. And it’s working. “I just met with the conference of Louisiana judges, and, when I asked if CSI had influenced their juries, every one of them raised their hands,” Carol Henderson, the director of the National Clearinghouse for Science, Technology and the Law at Stetson University in Florida, told the writer.
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