On CSI

CSI-Generation Juries

By Timothy M. Palmbach

Flash back to the late 1950s, and picture yourself as a typical member of society sitting as a juror in a murder trial. Specifically, imagine being a juror on a case involving the hypothetical but unfortunately common scenario of a man with marital problems who is charged with the murder of his wife. You and the rest of the jury are made aware that the defendant had reported his wife missing, and that her body was never found. A circumstantial case unfolds, with presentation of crime scene analysis and physical evidence, and you must decide whether or not to send the defendant to jail for life based on that case, one based not on the testimonial evidence to which you are accustomed, but exclusively focused on expert testimony from an array of forensic scientists. You hear testimony that a small bone chip was identified as having originated from a cranial bone, and that the donor of such a chip would, with a reasonable degree of scientific certainty, be deceased. And, of course, a DNA analyst testifies that there was a statistically generated random match probability, suggesting that the defendant’s wife was the donor of that skull bone. Oh, and by the way, the bone chip was found in the back of the defendant’s pickup truck with the aid of a crime scene alternate light source.

While a CSI-generation jury would have no difficulty rendering a decision based on that type of evidence, it is likely that our 1950s counterparts would be  …

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