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Prosecutors see 'CSI effect' in white-collar cases

(Posted September 24, 2005 by Leah Yoakum)

Jurors schooled in crime investigations through watching TV dramas expect prosecutors to show them sophisticated forensic evidence -- even in white-collar trials -- making it tough for the government to prove cases, two federal prosecutors said on Friday.

Alice Martin, the U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Alabama, said that the so-called "CSI effect" -- a reference to the hit CBS television show about gruesome crime scene investigations -- hurt her case against HealthSouth Corp. founder Richard Scrushy.

Scrushy was acquitted of securities fraud and other charges by an Alabama federal jury in June -- a blow to prosecutors seeking to punish alleged corporate wrongdoing.

Jurors in post-verdict interviews "said, 'we needed a fingerprint on one of the documents or we needed him (Scrushy) to say the word 'fraud' on the audiotape"' that was secretly recorded by a former HealthSouth finance chief, Martin said at a white-collar crime conference at Georgetown University Law Center in Washington.

"They said, 'they always do fingerprints on TV," she said.

David Anders, an assistant U.S. attorney in Manhattan who prosecuted ex-WorldCom CEO Bernard Ebbers and former investment banker Frank Quattrone, also told the conference that jurors expect forensic-type evidence in white-collar cases.

"The 'CSI effect' is not something that we're happy about," Anders said.

Prosecutors often base white-collar fraud cases on relatively dry evidence contained in reams of e-mails and complex accounting documents. Few of these trials resemble the cases featured on "CSI," about forensic scientists in Las Vegas who reconstruct murders by analyzing evidence like blood stains with high-tech tools.

"CSI: Crime Scene Investigation," U.S. television's top-rated drama last season, is one of about two dozen police procedural series airing on prime time in recent years, including two spinoffs -- "CSI: Miami" and "CSI: "NY."

Gerald Lefcourt, a criminal defense attorney in New York, said lawyers for white-collar crime defendants also need to keep in mind that jurors -- particularly younger ones in their 20s and 30s -- are widely influenced by what they see on TV and like to see visual presentations at trials.

"These are people who by and large have grown up on television," he said. "The day of the lawyers droning on is really gone. I think that jurors today, particularly the young ones, expect quickness and things they can see."


Source: Yahoo! News

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