Prosecutors in the United States say jurors schooled in crime investigations through watching TV dramas are making it tough to prove cases because they expect to see sophisticated forensic evidence, even in white-collar trials.
Alice Martin, the US state prosecutor for the Northern District of Alabama, said the so-called ‘CSI effect – a reference to the hit television show about gruesome crime scene investigations – hurt her in a recent corporate case.
Ms Martin has told a white-collar crime conference at Georgetown University Law Centre in Washington how jurors’ expectations hurt the case against HealthSouth Corp founder Richard Scrushy, who was acquitted of securities fraud and other charges in June.
The acquittal came as a blow to prosecutors seeking to punish alleged corporate wrongdoing.
Ms Martin says jurors in post-verdict interviews said “we needed a fingerprint on one of the documents or we needed him [Mr Scrushy] to say the word ‘fraud’ on the audiotape” that was secretly recorded by a former HealthSouth finance chief.
“They said, ‘they always do fingerprints on TV’,” Ms Martin said.
David Anders, an assistant US prosecutor in Manhattan who worked on the cases of ex-WorldCom CEO Bernard Ebbers and former investment banker Frank Quattrone, also told the conference that jurors expected forensic-type evidence in white-collar cases.
“The ‘CSI effect’ is not something that we’re happy about,” Mr Anders said.
Prosecutors often base white-collar fraud cases on relatively dry evidence contained in reams of emails and complex accounting documents. Few of these trials resemble the cases featured on CSI, which is about forensic scientists in Las Vegas who reconstruct murders by analysing evidence like blood stains with high-tech tools.