Not long after the debut of the television show, police and prosecutors began noticing CSI had raised expectations about the use of forensic science in real police investigations. Jurors were demanding more use of DNA evidence in courtrooms, and criminals were sanitizing crime scenes.
So far, this is just anecdotal evidence, and there is still debate as to whether the CSI effect is really affecting trials. But if it were, would it be a bad thing? Ann Althouse would not have a problem with it.
So what if everyone thinks he’s an expert too now? That’s an incentive for prosecutors to do their work well. The imperfection of real-life evidence is just one more thing they will have to get through to the C.S.I.-sharpened minds of the jurors.
Concluding my first class at law school, the professor said: “You all know that as of now none of you can serve on a jury now, right? You know too much.” We all stared at him blankly and wondered why knowing anything about the law would mean we were incapable of being good jurors.
With this sort of reasoning, if television shows accurately depicted courtroom trial procedure, nobody could have a jury of their peers.
Is anyone else rankled by idea of keeping jurors in the dark, or the idea that ignorance is required to produce a fair trial?
To make things more concrete, take a look at one example of enforced nescience, without which it is said the wheels of justice could not turn. It involves two cases from the Supreme Court of Canada involving jury nullification…
In R. v. Krieger (2006 SCC 47), the court acknowledged the importance of the common law tradition of jury nullification, that last hope of the sympathetic client.
… under the system of justice we have inherited from England juries are not entitled as a matter of right to refuse to apply the law — but they do have the power to do so when their consciences permit of no other course.
However, according to R. v. Morgentaler (1988 SCR 30), defence counsel is forbidden from telling a jury that they need not supply a guilty verdict if they think it is bad law.
The US has its own Kreiger, another medical marijuana case that raised the issue of jury nullification. However, it resulted in a conviction, and subsequent protests by the jury led to a debate about juries being informed of their powers.
I’m skeptical that jury nullification should have a place in the law, but I have a hard time understanding juries should be prevented from knowing of it. Perhaps I have too much confidence in the ability of juries to come to the right decision, and expect there to be stalwart, charismatic holdouts among 12 Angry Men.
- Irwin A. Horowitz, et al. Chaos in The Courtroom Reconsidered: Emotional Bias and Juror Nullification. Law and Human Behavior 30:2 (2006)
- Christian A. Meissner, et al. Jury Nullification: The Influence of Judicial Instruction on the Relationship Between Attitudes and Juridic Decision-Making Basic and Applied Social Psychology 25: 3 (2003).
- Keith E. Niedermeier, et al. Informing Jurors of Their Nullification Power: A Route to a Just Verdict or Judicial Chaos? Law and Human Behavior 23: 3 (June, 1999).