SEEING IS BELIEVING: HOW TELEVISED DEPICTIONS OF THE AMERICAN COURT SYSTEM IMPACT JURORS’ PERCEPTIONS OF THE LAW
By Chandelic Marie Jackson*
Today, the American Court System is concerned that popular legal-themed television shows broadcasting on various networks are impacting jurors’ expectations within the courtroom and causing a great division between laypersons and the legal system.1 Current legal-themed television shows depict police officers, detectives, and lawyers as overzealous, cunning, unethical individuals who will do whatever it takes to get the justice they feel is desired; not traits promoted by the Criminal Justice and American Court Systems. The Criminal Justice and American Court Systems seek to provide justice and a fair trial with an impartial jury to the accused, and any deviation from that caused by television’s effects is often referred to as the "CSI Effect."2 Because juries decide whether evidence presented during a trial supports an accusation and meets the burden of proof necessary to warrant a criminal conviction, the American Court system relies on juries to make these decisions in fair and consistent ways without prejudice. Attorneys and judges worry that juries’ decisions are biased because of television’s effects. This is a great concern because a jury’s decision can terminate a person’s life and liberty and bestow or deny justice to a victim. With a phenomenon like the "CSI Effect" existing, it should be a matter of great concern for the public. The evolution of legal-themed television shows has produced an exceedingly undesirable impact on jurors, judges, and officers of the court. Judges are tasked with reinforcing and educating jurors on proper courtroom customs to dispel falsehoods shown in legal-themed television shows, while officers of the court must spend a great deal of their time explaining their roles as attorneys and uncovering biases and other falsehoods created by legal-minded television shows. The accused are at the mercy of jurors and must trust that the small educational presentations from judges and officers of the court are sufficient to dispel harmful biases and falsities the jurors may carry, sometimes unknowingly.
I. The History