Forensic Scientific Evidence in the Courtroom: Representations and Realities

Toby Michael Heffernan


This article seeks to assess how societal preconceptions can differ from the realities of forensic scientific evidence and analyses the implications that arise when such evidence is presented in court. Firstly, with a specific focus on CSI and similar television shows, it examines the extent to which the media influences juries in causing “increased expectations of evidence, differing attitudes toward evidence types, and varying self-reported levels of understanding of scientific evidence”.[1] Secondly, it examines the various ways in which forensic evidence is presented in court. In particular, the ‘translation’ of forensic scientific evidence.
By analysing how legal regulations influence the “admissibility, presentation and interpretation” of forensic evidence,[2] the article aims to evaluate how the status of such evidence is maintained. For example,
by presenting evidence in ‘common’, easily-understood language for the jury raises concerns as to whether the presentation genuinely reflects the strength of the evidence. Issues of scientific bias assigned to expert witnesses in court, as well as the difficulties forensic scientists themselves face in interpreting and presenting results of evidence, will also be discussed in analysing the representativeness of forensic scientific evidence in courtroom presentations.

[1] Evelyn M. Maeder and Richard Corbett, “Beyond Frequency: Perceived realism and the CSI effect,” Canadian Journal of Criminology and Criminal Justice 57 (2015): 84.

[2] Paul Roberts, “The Science of Proof: Forensic science evidence in English criminal trials,”
in Handbook of Forensic Science, ed. Jim Fraser and Robin Williams (Cullompton: Willan Publishing, 2009), 446.

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