Tuesday, 25 March 2014

The CSI Effect

Ever heard of the 'CSI Effect'?

CSI: Crime Scene Investigation
It is the term used to describe that way in which public perception has been influenced by the exaggerated portrayal of forensic science on crime television shows such as CSI:Crime Scene Investigation and CSI:Miami. The popularity of crime dramas and the use of DNA forensics on TV has generated a lot of interest in forensic science, but has also created unrealistic expectations of forensics. More than this – researchers now say it has influenced jurors. Now, that’s really serious!

The CSI effect generates the belief by laypersons that they have some knowledge or expertise in the area of forensics, because they have seen it on TV. This is worrying when it affects jurors’ expectations with regard to evidence and forensic analysis techniques.

Taken at CSI Portsmouth
The CSI Effect can also lead to disruption at crime scenes. In April last year, a forensics student in Texas witnessed a shooting and rather than waiting for the experts to arrive on the scene, began taking matters into her own hands. First, she told a neighbour to call police. Then, she ran to her truck and grabbed her camera, began taking pictures and improvised. She drew a diagram of a bullet casing found in the middle of the road, then placed it in a plastic bag provided by a neighbour with tweezers. The fact that she was studying forensics and had been taught to process a crime scene does not change the fact that she interfered with a crime scene in which she had no authority or qualifications to do so…

So what are the implications of the CSI effect in court? Research in the US has come up with the following: 

i)                 It can induce jurors to believe they have expertise regarding forensic evidence and therefore increased expectation of forensic investigators. Jurors can conclude that if certain evidence is not found or is proved to be negative – then the defendant is not guilty. Many US prosecutors say this accounts for an increase in acquittals. In research involving 102 prosecutors in Arizona, in 2005, 38 percent said they had lost a case due to the CSI effect.

ii)               Legal professionals have had to change their behaviour in order to accommodate the perceived changes in jurors’ attitudes – such as giving cautionary instructions. 72 percent of the (above) Arizona prosecutors said that they believed jurors were unduly influenced by fictional CSI details. As a result, prosecutors have started to ask jurors about their TV viewing habits and to educate them in police procedures.

iii)             More students are enrolling on forensic science programmes as they regard it as a 'glamorous' career.

iv)             The general public tends to think that CSI-style programmes are instructing criminals on how to destroy evidence and cover their tracks.

Here are three common Misconceptions resulting from the CSI Effect:

1.  That evidence of a person’s DNA at the crime scene proves guilt. Here’s an example: A party is held at a celebrity’s home with caterers. Two weeks later, the house is burgled. The suspicion is that one of the caterers had cased the home during their visit, but DNA does not show when it was left and so there is no way of knowing whether the caterer left it during the party or during the burglary. It takes oldfashioned detective work to determine guilt.

2.  Television shows depict scientists determining if DNA came from saliva, tears, cremated remains, or sweat. In fact, DNA is just DNA. There is also no scientific process that determines the DNA’s source. Moreover, scientists cannot draw DNA from cremated remains. Cremation heats the body at temperatures that reach 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit or above, destroying all sources of DNA. 

3.  While a TV crime lab is filled with chatter, a real DNA lab is silent. Experts in a DNA laboratory are gowned up in lab coats, gloves and face shields. There is no talking in the lab unless it is case specific. Even speaking over the evidence can contaminate the DNA. There is also no eating or drinking (or banter!) while conducting tests.

Thanks to Timothy Kupferschmid, executive director of Sorenson Forensics for details of misconceptions. See more at: http://www.sorensonforensics.com/forensics-lab-forensic-dna-testing/dna-forensics-lab-news-forensic-lab-development/the-csi-effect-myths-versus-truths#sthash.kOzxeaxC.dpuf

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AJ Waines is the author of Psychological Thrillers:  The Evil Beneath and Girl on a Train.
Both books went to Number One in 'Murder' and 'Psychological Thrillers' in the UK Kindle charts.

Monday, 17 March 2014

My Writing Process (A Blog Hop)

I’ve been tagged!  Tagged, that is, to participate in a blog hop for writers. Thanks to Susan Holmes and Rae Davies author of The Dusty Deals Mystery Series for inviting me to play along!

Every Monday authors blog about their own writing process, using a standard format and answering the same questions.  This is definitely a multi-genre hop; there's been mystery, paranormal, young adult, and romance. Follow the links to “meet” more writers.

What am I working on?

I write Psychological Thrillers in the vein of Nicci French. I currently have two books doing well on Amazon (both The Evil Beneath and Girl on a Train reached Number One in ‘murder’ in the UK Kindle Charts). I’m polishing my next book so that I can work on it with my Agent. I’m looking forward to starting on a new story – I’d love to write something atmospheric involving snow in a remote spot in the Highlands!

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

As a Psychotherapist for over fifteen years, I've worked with people dealing with all kinds of traumatic and disturbing situations. This means I can bring readers an authentic ‘behind the scenes’ take on the way individuals react to extraordinary circumstances and when/how these reactions lead to abnormal psychology. My clients have ranged from minor celebrities to ex-offenders from high-security institutions - quite a broad spectrum! This exclusive and privileged position has given me a rare insight not only into the conditions that can lead to disastrous decisions/actions, but also the criminal mind.

Why do I write what I do?

Words and images are very important as a Psychotherapist – they are the means by which we express our inner emotional worlds. I love listening to the words people use to describe themselves and their situations and words to me, and their etymology, are fascinating. It seems an obvious step to move from listening to extraordinary scenarios to writing about them (preserving confidentiality, of course!).

How does my writing process work?

I like to get a 'hook' at the beginning – an idea that’s a bit different to grab the reader and draw them in. With The Evil Beneath – this was the idea of a woman finding a corpse in the Thames and then realising she was wearing her own clothes… I find getting a title early grounds the book and makes it feel real. I find plotting hard – how to get everything in the correct order for the most dramatic effect – that’s the challenge! Getting a twist at the end is also key – Girl on a Train has certainly got one of those!

Keep on Hopping!

Thanks for reading. Be sure to check out author Rae Davies' post from last week. And on March 24th, look for new blog hop post by author, TB Markinson on her own site.

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AJ Waines is the author of Psychological Thrillers:  The Evil Beneath and Girl on a Train.
Both books went to Number One in 'Murder' and 'Psychological Thrillers' in the UK Kindle charts.

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Unexpected Gift from the Police...

Did you know the Metropolitan Police have an online brochure selling branded merchandise, entitled MetGifts?  

I only know this, because I’m a member of the Crime Writers’ Association (I’m ‘Featured Author of the month’ in March!) and Joan Lock mentioned MetGifts in the CWA magazine, Red Herrings. Joan used to be a policewoman in London's West End during the 1950s and seems to know a lot about what the police get up to when they’re not chasing criminals. 

The Met aren't doing a great deal to promote their gifts – there is only one mention on Google where you can view the PDF brochure, but there’s no online order form. You have to either ring to put in your order, send a cheque or turn up at the Heritage Centre in Earls Court. Being a bit of a sucker for author- or crime-related gifts, I ordered the tiny handcuffs and the Met crest pins (left) – both a ‘steal’ at £1.50 each! 

 You can also get a Bobby Bear with his own warrant card – with the new addition this year of Lady Bear and Traffic Bear, but only if they become popular will you be able to get the accompanying warrant cards!

The first book-related merchandise I ever came across were the Penguin mugs: with the iconic original book covers. There is something satisfying about this logo on a mug - still surely a staple in any self-respecting  bibliophile/authors’ residence.

 Now, from a specialist company, you can get a typewriter teapot  (I’m tempted).

You can also find a Book Clock (definitely not tempted) - but check out other gifts from this company:

 I'd love to know if you've found any author/crime related Gifts worth having a look at!

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AJ Waines is the author of Psychological Thrillers:  The Evil Beneath and Girl on a Train.
Both books went to Number One in 'Murder' and 'Psychological Thrillers' in the UK Kindle charts.

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Sign Posts in a Writing Journey

I've only been writing fiction since the end of 2008, but in retrospect, the 'seed' has always been there. I think this is a phenomenon many people discover about themselves; that sign-posts have been lining up during their lives trying to send them in a particular direction. If they pay attention and follow their heart this can often lead to a great sense of 'homecoming' - it certainly has with me.

Here are some of my Sign Posts in my life that led me to write Psychological Thrillers:

1 An old school friend remembered (when I had forgotten all about it) that, at nine or ten years old, I used to fill exercise books with Enid Blyton-style stories and read them out on the bus on the way to the public baths!

2 My mother was a primary school teacher and used to recite stories to her class at the end of the day - each day a new chapter in the story. Amazing thing was the stories were off the top of her head - all her own ideas and never written down...

3 Our house was full (and I mean full) of crime-fiction paperbacks.

Found on emperor-of-gossamer.tumblr.com
4 I used to write poems as a teenager - horribly sentimental, but I won a school competition once with a poem about Snow. I still have it. I'll post it up if I can find it!

5 I've always loved words. As a psychotherapist words are extremely important.  Images and metaphors are the tools with which we explore and find a language for our emotional inner-worlds.

6 Imagination. Mine is a bit wild (says my husband)! I love finding out about (or imagining) what goes on behind closed doors. What goes on in people's minds... As a therapist, I see myself as the most private of Private Detectives; someone who is privileged to get inside another person’s head and take a look around, to try to piece together how they make choices, what drives them, what they’re afraid of.

7 Being a Psychotherapist has involved working with disturbed and emotionally unstable clients from high security prisons and also with totally balanced people who have had to face the most outrageous situations. It's only one step from listening to writing about this kind of material...


It took me a long time to 'come home'. Think about your life. What sign-posts have there been leading you in a particular direction. Go back to your childhood and find the clues to who you really are. Are you following your Dreams? Let me know...

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AJ Waines is the author of Psychological Thrillers:  The Evil Beneath and Girl on a Train.
Both books reached Number One in 'Murder' and 'Psychological Thrillers' in the UK Kindle charts.