Article Title

The Serial Effect


The “CSI Effect” theorizes that criminal juries can be unduly influenced by fictional crime dramas such that they demand a higher standard of forensic evidence than is available, or even possible to provide, in most criminal cases. The CSI Effect has a strong presence in the courtroom despite its narrow focus on forensic evidence and basis in fiction. This article explores a new media-induced effect that may prove to affect American juries even more insidiously: The Serial Effect. This article explores the rise of true crime podcasts and the legal cases featured within them through focus on Syed v. Maryland and Flowers v. Mississippi, cases that were featured on true crime podcasts and both later made it all the way to the Supreme Court. By engaging directly with the podcasts that featured these cases, this article draws distinctions between the CSI Effect and the newly conceptualized Serial Effect by considering how different forms of true crime storytelling can influence cultural perceptions of criminal cases. We begin by considering what it means that the Serial Effect’s impact is due to media that casts itself as truth, not fiction, and is heralded as true. We then carefully analyze the language of these podcasts and how each podcast’s narrative construction focuses on guilt versus innocence, considers evidence, understands and explains criminal procedure, and deals with the verdict or resolution of the case. We find that true crime podcasts can vary substantially in how they construct criminal cases for the lay audience, particularly in their focus (or lack thereof) on guilt and innocence. We argue that this understudied narrative construction could have substantial impacts on jury expectations for forensic evidence and, more broadly, perhaps eclipse the previously studied CSI Effect. We conclude by calling for rigorous empirical research on this newly defined Serial Effect.

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