Supply-Closet Sex and Instant DNA

In courtroom dramas, there is always "a lawsuit against a huge corporation that settles for millions by the end of the hour with no one aging a moment," said Bethany LaFlam, an attorney in Newport Beach, Calif. "In real life, it would likely take years to get a settlement of that magnitude finalized, and collecting on it is a whole other matter."

Then there's the tricky business of government budgets, which never seem to run out on T.V.

"The shows make it look like we have unlimited time and resources and all the personnel in the lab or medical examiner's office are allowed to concentrate all of their efforts on a single case," said forensic anthropologist Lenore Barbian, who worked extensively on identifying victims at the United 93 crash site after 9/11.

Nor do forensics experts have "fancy holograms," "flashing lights," "national missing persons databases" or other state-of-the-art gizmos to aid their analysis, said Barbian, who teaches at Edinboro University of Pennsylvania.

In fact, "Most forensic labs are in dingy basements with a fluorescent lamp," said William Bligh-Glover, a forensic pathologist who teaches at Case Western Reserve University.

A Commercial Break Does Not a Positive DNA Match Make

"In a criminal investigation, we constantly run into people who can't believe we can't solve the crimes like they do on 'CSI'," says Greg Sorenson, a detective in Santa Barbara.

"I worked a murder case which took us almost two years to solve. Constantly we were pressed by why physical evidence, especially DNA, can't be traced and found in a quick, sufficient manner."

But it's not just the public, the media and the victims' families who have questions. Sometimes it's the juries on criminal cases. And according to some detectives and forensics experts, this can make for a lot of courtroom confusion.

"Juries always think there should be DNA to back up any investigation," said Barbian.

But not only do DNA results take more than 10 minutes to obtain (a week or two is more like it), sometimes investigators can't "get a good sample" of DNA for a case, she said. Sometimes science fails us. Sometimes there isn't even the budget for DNA testing.

Kill Your Television?

Curious as to what Hollywood had to say for itself about these distortions of reality, I consulted Cheryl Cain, who's worked as a TV scriptwriter on shows such as "Roswell," "Threat Matrix" and the cult classic "Firefly."

"I know people think that we just write this stuff off the cuff," Cain said. But, "most of those shows have consultants. When I worked in production on 'Profiler,' our scripts always went out to an FBI consultant."

For research, Cain was sent by her producers to "FBI bomb school" and the CSI unit of the Los Angeles sheriff's office.

Still, "it's kind of a fine line sometimes between entertainment and credibility," she said.

So does this mean I'm fixing to put a bullet in my T.V., like forensic pathologist Bligh-Glover did because he'd grown so frustrated with the crime shows?

Hardly.

"Too many times people look at T.V. and they forget that what they're watching is a story," Cain said. "Even the reality shows, they shoot a ton of film and then they go and create a story from it. "You need to have those dramatic scenes or people aren't going to watch."

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