Prosecutors see ‘CSI effect’ in white-collar cases

By Martha Graybow

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – 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.”