Forensics on TV vs. Forensics Nursing in Real Life

    September 23, 2011 at 6:00 am

    csi miamiCrime procedural TV shows like CSI and Law and Order: SVU have a very limited time in which to fit the crime, character development of the victims and detectives, investigation, and forensics procedures for each episode. Realistically, 44 minutes is only a small fraction of the time it actually takes to solve even a simple crime using forensics. Most people have little to no knowledge about the way forensics actually works, so the conflicting points between television and reality often go unnoticed. But in fact, the forensics displayed on television are vastly different from the way we use forensic nursing to solve real crimes. Here are just a few of the liberties that television takes with the procedural parts of Procedural Crime Dramas:

    Super Human Procedural Speed

    law and order svuA man is murdered. A foreign hair is pulled from the scene and tested immediately, bringing detectives much closer to finding the murderer. On the TV show, this all happens in about 10 or 15 minutes. Realistically, these processes take a considerable amount of time. Forensic pathologists are equipped with state-of-the-art technology to assist them, but housing the amount of equipment in one CSI laboratory would be way too expensive. Many times, the forensic samples are sent away to outside labs, which can take weeks to return the results. Additionally, human error is much more common than ‘virtually nonexistent’, which is how crime television shows typically portray forensic scientists. Incorrectly gathered samples or mistakes during testing can give false results or even damage the samples beyond recognition.

    Multi-Talented Technicians

    CSI: CRIME SCENE INVESTIGATIONIn procedural crime TV shows, the forensic specialists don’t limit themselves to the lab rooms — they can be found at the scene of the crime as well. CSI investigators carry complex machinery, often finding clues through forensic testing right on the spot. Although the television show has these phony forensics personnel collecting evidence and making judgment calls whilst casually standing around a dead body, reality is much different. Forensic lab technicians stay in the forensics lab. Forensic psychologists stay in the psychology offices. There is no crime-scene-to-lab traveling, random interrogations, or chasing leads around like the detectives do. Additionally, forensics labs consist of multiple testers and collectors, not just a single person who handles the entirety of every case that comes through the precinct. A lab technician may specialize in testing or organizing the evidence, but typically does not do both, and certainly wouldn’t be out in the field collecting samples and chasing bad guys through alleys.

    The Overly Opinionated Jury

    juryThe overly opinionated jury is a trope typically unseen in crime television, but has become more and more recurring in real cases across America. Jurors, fueled by their love of CSI and related television shows, have sometimes made it next to impossible for prosecutors to convict a suspect — and often unjustly so. It’s true that one’s television-related knowledge can make a large, positive difference in the case; one man suggested the DNA testing of a cigarette butt found at the scene of a murder. This testing exonerated the potential criminal, saving an innocent man from being condemned to live his life behind bars. However, there are even more cases of annoyingly arrogant jurors claiming that detectives failed to properly search the scene, or demanding DNA tests when all evidence points to a person’s guilt without it. For example, a jury claimed that extensive DNA testing be done on a pack of cigarettes containing drugs, despite the fact that the person in possession of the cigarettes and drugs had admitted that both items did, in fact, belong to him. Because of the jury’s obstinate stupidity as a result of “TV Forensics Training”, a relatively simple case was unnecessarily delayed.

    Human Encyclopedias

    Isn’t it amazing how smart the forensic technicians on CSI and SVU are? Ask them a question, and the answer is snappily served up without a moment’s hesitation. If you’ve ever worked in retail, maybe you can relate to the reality that isn’t depicted on these shows. While selling the same products every day may make a person more familiar with their prices and codes, no one remembers the price of every item in the store. The same goes for doctors and forensic scientists; the answers are sometimes looked up and not stored in their super-human, encyclopedia-like brains. It’s unrealistic to expect a person to know everything about any subject, but it’s understandable on television; CSI doesn’t have enough airtime to wait while the superman forensic scientist detective cowboy shows how unfit he is for the job by referring to an actual piece of literature.

    Super Computers are Everywhere

    csi computerHere’s a typical crime procedural drama scene: a fingerprint is found at the scene of the crime and scanned into the computer. A fancy program comes up, flashing countless mugshots across the screen beside the image of the fingerprint. Suddenly, the screen stops upon one mug shot and automatically enlarges it while a picture of an identical fingerprint zooms into focus beside the scanned fingerprint. A noise sounds off and the screen flashes proudly, having found a definite match. This is laughably far from reality. In the real world, fingerprint matching calls upon a computer to find possible matches, not definite ones. The possible matches are then examined by a human, who determines if any of them fit the puzzle. Not nearly as exciting, and with roughly zero flashing computer screens, complex graphics packages, and affirming computer dings.

    Handkerchiefs are Always Clean

    csi-evidencebagOn television, detectives can often be seen carefully lifting evidence with a piece of fabric or a pencil. Miraculously, none of the fingerprints or DNA evidence disappears with this type of rough handling. It must be a type of voodoo witch magic, because real evidence of a delicate nature (DNA, fingerprints, markings inside the barrel of a gun) can easily be mangled, removed, or destroyed by touching it with a rough fabric or a hard pencil. Detectives are not supposed to rifle through a crime scene, haphazardly rummaging through the evidence with whatever they see fit to cover their hands. Apparently in the world of TV crime dramas, the only thing that’s ever dirty is your hands. Everything else is immaculately clean and perfectly acceptable for grabbing delicate pieces of evidence with.


    Speak Your Mind
    Tell us what you're thinking... and oh, if you want a pic to show with your comment, go get a gravatar!