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'CSI effect' making cases hard to prove: lawyers

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.

CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, US 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 defence lawyer in New York, said lawyers for white-collar crime defendants also needed to keep in mind that jurors - particularly those in their 20s and 30s - were widely influenced by what they saw on TV and liked to see visual presentations at trials.

"These are people who by and large have grown up on television," Mr Lefcourt 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."
......Later the lawyer calls the forensics expert to say: we found your fingerprints and hair fibers on your keyboard so therefore you are guilty of file swapping
 
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