If it weren’t for the CBS television show “CSI”, the vast majority of people would probably have very little knowledge of this important profession. But like so much that comes out of Hollywood, the day-to-day working conditions of crime scene investigators have been dramatized in order keep the viewer watching. But how much of what you see on TV is true to the working conditions that CSI agents really face, and how much is just made up?
Real Life is Much Slower
While television shows often depict CSI agents going from finding a bodily fluid – such as blood, to testing it, to locating a suspect in a database in just a matter of (seemingly) hours, in real life the process if much slower. According to forensic scientist Sarah Owen of Northeastern Illinois Regional Crime Laboratory, just the process of looking for a match in a database can take up to 40 hours. Add to that the time it takes to find, isolate, and test the sample in the first place, and you have a process which can take a couple of weeks or more.
Real Life is Far Less Glamorous
CSI agents on TV often drive fancy cars and wear nice designer clothing, but in real life CSI professionals are regular people who earn a typical salary. And though crime scene investigators and forensic scientists are highly skilled and very intelligent, their jobs do not usually include many “James Bond” or “Mission Impossible” type adventures.
The Effect on the Jury
One complaint many CSI professionals express is that due to the popularity of television shows depicting their profession, people who serve in juries may be tainted with false expectations. They say that the tragedy is that these unfortunate expectations can have a real effect on the outcome of a trial. For example, if the jury expects DNA evidence, but investigators were not able to conclusively locate or isolate the DNA, the jury may be more apt to acquit a suspect who they otherwise would have considered guilty.