DNA, Peter Gill and the CSI Effect

By Anna Sandiford 17/02/2010

I’ve been preaching for some time now about the problems that programs like CSI cause regarding the general perception of the capabilities of forensic science — and look, here is one of the world’s foremost DNA scientists and pioneers of DNA in forensics saying exactly the same thing, specifically about DNA: CSI no relevance to real DNA profiling.

Dr Gill also mentioned that although TV programs have highlighted science (which is a good thing), they do hinder the Expert when it comes to presenting evidence in court. I wholeheartedly agree.

Dr Gill said, ’(CSI) doesn’t really represent the way in which forensic science works. My concerns with programs like that it gives the impression that if there is a DNA profile found at a crime scene and you have a suspect that it doesn’t necessarily follow that a suspect is guilty of that crime. There are a lot of other things which must be considered.’ — this is so true.  Forensic Scientists shouldn’t necessarily just report (or review) the science in isolation — the framework into which that science fits is crucial for the proper understanding of what the science is telling the Trier of Fact (usually a jury and/or a Judge). It is then for the Trier of Fact to decide what weight to apply to that evidence when deciding on the Ultimate Issue, which is usually down to two choices: guilty or not guilty.

Forensic Science can of course also be used for investigative purposes — and it may take an investigation down a different track from the one that the investigators were expecting. The important thing is that the investigators should take that scientific information into account when deciding what to do next — just sticking with their previous track of thought may be neither appropriate nor correct.

’The scientist is not there to prosecute anyone. Whether the individual is found guilty or innocent has no bearing on the science.’ Dr Gill makes an extremely valid point in this last sentence.  ALL forensic scientists should be impartial and unbiased in their reporting — no exceptions.