Life in the crime lab is not like it is on TV

The influence of TV crime shows has changed the expectations of juries, says the director of the Nebraska State Patrol’s Crime Lab.
Because of the TV shows, Pam Zilly believes “there is more of an expectation, particularly from juries, that there will be forensic evidence in every case,” and that the evidence will be presented to them.

In the real world, forensic evidence might exist, but it won’t be presented to a jury because it isn’t relevant, Zilly said. For example, if a son is accused of stealing his father’s truck, the son’s fingerprints and DNA are probably all over the truck because he’s used it legitimately in the past. In the case of a bank robbery, it’s not worth worrying about fingerprints if the suspect is a customer who visited the bank earlier that day.

“So wasting the resources to perform that testing is unnecessary,” and delays the crime lab from getting to cases where testing is more meaningful, she said.
Zilly believes more attorneys are asking for extra testing ”to appease juries, when in actuality that testing may not be significant in that case. So we spend quite a bit of time trying to communicate with attorneys and investigators,” urging them not to have testing done when it’s not truly necessary, Hall County Attorney Jack Zitterkopf agrees that people have unrealistic expectations of what needs to be presented.

Generally, lawyers try to educate the jury during the voir dire process, which precedes a jury trial, “that this isn’t ‘CSI.’ This is the real world,” Zitterkopf said.
“In the real world, we don’t test every piece of evidence for a number of reasons,” he said. Lawyers try to educate jurors that not every case or every question requires forensic evidence.

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