CSI and its endless spinoffs paint crime labs as magical places where brilliant scientists use cutting-edge science to solve impossible cases. But “that image is quite far from reality,” writes Professor Douglas Starr in the Boston Globe. Real-life crime labs are “wildly inconsistent: many labs have poorly trained investigators, antiquated equipment” and huge case backlogs. In a statistical analysis of overturned convictions last year, nearly 70% involved crime lab or forensics mistakes.
An investigation in North Carolina, for example, found that the state lab routinely falsified results to suit the prosecution, resulting in more than 100 wrongful convictions and as many as three wrongful executions. The National Academy of Sciences, after finding widespread inadequacies in labs around the country, has proposed taking them out of police departments and making them independent, scientific entities. Until that happens, remember that CSI is “more a morality tale than a portrait of reality.”