Testimony before U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee
May 15, 2001
By William Petersen, CSI
Thank you, Mr. Chairman and members of the Committee. I am greatly honored to have been invited to address such a distinguished group. I am here to speak to you on behalf of a television show that highlights crime solving technology. As a result of my role in the CBS dramatic series, CSI, I began to research the field of forensic science and became fascinated with it. Weekly, twenty three million viewers find forensic science just as fascinating. What motivates these viewers to tune in to CSI is the belief that, as Americans, our criminal justice system is about the truth, and they find comfort in the fact that the evidence is, ultimately, the essence of that truth.
The Forensic Laboratory that my character, Gil Grissom, inhabits is one that knows no budget constraints or budget cuts, that has adequate space for every technological advance imaginable, that has sufficient employees to solve every crime that we encounter, and has no backlogs. The CSI lab processes evidence and solves crimes in a mere 44 minutes allotted to a network program. My character’s lab is a technological wonder and state of the art. But, we all know that this is not the reality of the approximately 450 crime labs and coroner’s labs across our country. Their reality is quite different than the manufactured world of my character and CSI.
Labs across the country are faced with a myriad of problems. Caseloads have grown faster than funding and backlogs are expanding. Many labs have outdated facilities and equipment and an insufficient number of qualified personnel to conduct the analyses that are so vital to our criminal justice system. For every 44 minutes that CSI spends solving crime, 44 days, 44 weeks, or 44 months are spent by victims and suspects waiting to receive the truth. CSI restores people’s belief in the criminal justice system before they go to bed at night, but in reality it is frequently weeks, months, and sometimes years, that the innocent are held hostage and the guilty roam free, while evidence sits untouched in overburdened labs.
Recently the media has focused some attention on the failures of several in the forensic community. These scientists are the exception, rather than the rule. As I am sure you would agree, we cannot let the behavior of any one taint the whole profession. The forensic scientists that I have met are dedicated professionals commiteed to objectivity – they are advocates for the truth. They recognize the consequences that their analyses and decisions can have on both the accused and the victim – they need and want the tools and training that are so vital to keeping the scales of justice level.
In conclusion, let me say that I am deeply committed to this issue and recognize the needs of the laboratories doing this important work. I support the efforts of the forensic scientists and the funding of the Paul Coverdell National Forensic Sciences Improvement Act. And again, thank you for providing me with the opportunity to express my beliefs before this esteemed Committee.