CSI Effect - Australian Journal of Forensic Sciences 38:97-106 2006 DNA AND THE CHANGING FACE OF JUSTICE Jane Goodman-Delahunty and David Tait

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Australian Journal of Forensic Sciences, 38: 97-106, 2006 DNA AND THE CHANGING FACE OF JUSTICE Jane Goodman-Delahunty and David Tait Abstract Focusing on the impact of DNA evidence in jury trials, evidence for the existence of multiple posited forms of the “CSI effect” is reviewed. The most popular version of the effect, that it produces unrealistic expectations of the prosecution and thus results in unwarranted acquittals, remains unsupported. The converse effect, that unwarranted convictions result from the overweighting of DNA expert evidence, has received some support from archival analyses, a substantial field study, and several simulation studies. The precise factors that produce these trends are yet not well-understood. Future research should examine the source of these findings, explore ways to assist jurors in according DNA evidence appropriate probative weight, and take into account the influence of jury deliberations. Introduction For more than a century, observers of the jury have alternatively proclaimed or declaimed the increasing reliance in criminal trials on scientific evidence. In 1883, the famous French jurist, Gabriel Tarde, announced that henceforth, juries could rely on the “science of the expert” that according to him, was “as much impartial as infallible.” 1 Others were afraid that the “white coat syndrome” would cause jurors to be overly impressed by the gloss and glitter of the expert. Concerns have frequently been expressed that jurors are unable to discern the significance and appropriate probative weight of expert testimony and are susceptible to superficial persuasive features originating in attributes other than the content of the expert evidence. The trial of John Hendrickson, in Albany, New York in 1853, was based on the evidence of a young doctor testifying for the prosecution about the effects of poison. Experts on the subject commented that the jury seemed more convinced by the charm of the doctor than the strength of the evidence. 2 More recently, a study of sentencing decisions by Texan jurors noted that “undue submission by the jury to perceived authority becomes a significant risk factor” in choosing the death penalty. 3 The same ambivalent themes about how juries cope with expert scientific evidence are reflected in the contemporary debate over the influence of the latest form of scientific knowledge, DNA evidence, the genetic passport that supposedly uniquely identifies each individual. DNA evidence, like that involving toxicology, photography, fingerprinting and other forms of scientific evidence before it, has been held up on the one hand as capable of providing greater certainty to the jury, and on the other hand, as yet another example of fallible science masquerading as definitive truth. 4
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This note was uploaded on 04/05/2011 for the course CJ 495 taught by Professor Johnson during the Winter '11 term at Grand Valley State University.

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CSI Effect - Australian Journal of Forensic Sciences 38:97-106 2006 DNA AND THE CHANGING FACE OF JUSTICE Jane Goodman-Delahunty and David Tait

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