Local News

Some Argue Crime-Related TV Drama Can Influence Jurors

Posted December 2, 2004

— Fascinating cases, amazing technology and complicated crimes solved in less than an hour are a great recipe for television drama, and now those things are influencing real-life juries.

Attorney Joe Cheshire said he now routinely works TV into his questions during jury selection.

"If jurors don't hear crime scene evidence, then they're questioning why they didn't hear it," attorney Joe Cheshire said. "Do you watch 'CSI'? Do you have a particular expectation? I've had jurors say to me, 'Well, I expect to hear some of that in a case.'"

District Attorney Colon Willoughby admits prosecutors must go to greater lengths to explain why TV fiction does not always mirror local crime fighting.

"Jurors do ask why we didn't get some kind of evidence that they've seen on television," he said.

Alan Gell

sat on death row for a murder he claimed he did not commit. Cheshire represented Gell during the retrial and believes jury expectations helped clear him.

"I think it really made a difference in the way the Gell jury looked at it. There was no physical evidence," Cheshire said.

On the other hand, without a 'CSI'-like DNA match, prosecutors probably never could have linked

Linwood Forte

to a series of Goldsboro rapes and murders. Realistic or not, Cheshire argues that crime show science is making a difference in in the jury box.

"You've got to see these cultural influences. They're important," he said.

While "CSI" is affecting juries now, both Cheshire and Willoughby agree TV has been a factor in the courtroom before. Shows like "Miami Vice" and "Perry Mason" helped form stereotypes for how attorneys and police officers do their jobs.

DNA evidence, one of the key forensic tools in court, was first used during a rape trial in England in 1986. A year later, DNA made its U.S. courtroom debut in California. Two years later, DNA first appeared in a North Carolina court. It was used to convict a Rowan County man of rape.

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