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While prosecutors are trying to reduce juries' expectations, defense attorneys like Barry Scheck, a co-founder of the Innocence Project and former O.J. Simpson lawyer, are happy to see the TV-watching public demand more from the justice system. "Crime labs are in a crisis. An independent, scientifically rigorous, up-to-date crime lab is essential to law enforcement. CSI teaches us that," says Scheck. William Petersen, who isn't a forensic specialist but, of course, plays one on the original CSI, has testified in Congress to get more federal dollars to local labs.
Already colleges are rapidly adding forensics departments because of increased student interest, and even high schools are inserting forensics into their science curriculums. "Twenty years ago, the typical forensics person we'd hire had a B.A. in science. Now we're hiring master's- and Ph.D.-level people," says Barry Fisher, crime-lab director for the Los Angeles County sheriff's department.
It's not only jurors, lawyers and educators who are being affected. Fisher cites a recent case in which a rapist forced his victim to shower after the attack to wash off any evidence. "I'm sure he's reacting to the stuff on TV where they have an understanding that there is trace evidence available," he says. And in September a woman who allegedly robbed a Bantam, Conn., bank used a diaper bag to store the money, an idea she said she picked up from CSI. --Reported by Amy Lennard Goehner, Lina Lofaro and Kate Novack/New York