Special Reports

Former Juror: 'CSI Effect' not behind decision to acquit accused child molester

"We did the best that we could"

Former Juror: 'CSI Effect' not...

EL PASO, Texas - A former juror reached out to ABC-7 after seeing our special report on the CSI Effect, the name for the belief that television crime and courtroom dramas create unrealistic expectations for jurors in criminal cases.

Tonya Phillips said she was insulted by the insinuation jurors were influenced by forces outside the evidence presented in court.

Her experience as a juror was still fresh when she saw the report in February; Phillips served during the Sept. 2016 trial of an accused child molester.

"We didn't have that much physical or forensic or any other kind. It was all witness testimony," Phillips told ABC-7. Phillips, who works as a coach, said that wasn't the reason why the jury found the defendant not guilty.

"I am a watcher of CSI and (shows) like that, and ... that (show) didn't influence my decision," she said. "When you're in that jury box, you're not just watching testimony, you're watching what they're doing. You're watching the judge. You're watching people coming in and out of the courtroom. It's more than what is just going on on the witness stand. ... we're like, 'Oh, we have to key in on this.'"

SPECIAL REPORT: How courtroom dramas impact jurors and real-life cases

In ABC-7's report on the CSI Effect, numerous studies were cited that showed no consensus on whether TV shows influenced jurors. But El Paso District Attorney Jaime Esparza said he believed the CSI Effect was real.

"I think it creates an unrealistic expectation," Esparza had said. "I would tell you that it raises the level of certainty beyond what the law requires, which is beyond a reasonable doubt."

In a separate interview, defense attorney and former assistant D.A. Yvonne Rosales agreed with Esparza, saying, "I think sometimes they are caught up that a one-hour drama show can solve a murder case, and they don't understand that a murder can take up to a week and a half or two weeks for trial, sometimes longer."

Phillips said when she heard that, she was insulted.

"I just felt maybe it was more of a generalization that they were trying to blame juries for the reason why they didn't win their cases," she said.

Looking back on her experience, Phillips also said she is offended by people who look down on those who serve on juries.

"Our juries are crazy. The juries are idiots. No," she said. "Just because we could not find him guilty, doesn't mean it is the jury's fault. There's other factors and other laws that have to be followed before you can say, yes, guilty."

Phillips said her experience was so grueling, she is thinking of how to avoid sitting on another jury in the future. A disheartening decision, she said, considering the purpose of a jury is to make a difference in the criminal justice system of a democracy.

"I learned rather quickly that just standing up, saying that I do not feel that I can come to an unbiased decision in this case, that's it," she said. "Over half the jury panel was gone after that question."

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