Real-World Forensic DNA Expert Lists “The Top 10 TV Crime Lab Myths”

  • Sorenson Forensics Executive Director Tim Kupferschmid Says “CSI Effect” Both Good and Bad for Profession
  • Internationally Recognized Scientist Says Real-World Forensic Scientists Get It Done, but “Never in an Hour and Never so Slickly”

SALT LAKE CITY--()--The spate of popular television crime dramas where high-tech marvels of forensic science quickly solve mysteries have proven both a blessing and a curse for law enforcement, says Sorenson Forensics Executive Director Tim Kupferschmid, an internationally recognized scientist with 20 years of forensic DNA experience.

That’s why he has come up with his “Top 10 TV Crime Lab Myths” list.

No. 1 on that list? The idea that crime laboratories can gather, prepare, test, and have results from DNA and other forensic tests within a few hours. Wrong.

“There’s is a huge DNA-testing backlog crisis nationwide with delays ranging from several weeks to years. The technology you see on TV just isn’t out there,” he explains.

But the so-called “CSI Effect,” coined by forensic scientists from the originating crime lab genre show of that name, is a two-edged scalpel. Along with the ratings networks enjoy from the franchise, interest in all scientific criminology has soared, bringing a flood of bright new students into the profession. The hit series have also created unrealistic expectations about how extensive and decisive forensic science truly is in the courtroom, says Kupferschmid. Sorenson Forensics is an internationally accredited forensics DNA laboratory and recognized industry leader in obtaining DNA profiles from crime scene evidence.

So, here’s the rest of Kupferschmid’s “Top 10 TV Crime Lab Myths”:

2. A suspect will be sitting in an interrogation room, wearing the same clothes he wore during the crime – and conclusive test results arrive just as you sit down to question him. Nope. “If it’s a case that has withered on the vine, crime scene investigators (CSIs) will wait months or years for DNA results,” he says.

3. CSIs follow cases from start to finish and conclude investigations within a few days. Dream on. “Some cases sit on shelves for years, and there are many other cases being handled at the same time,” Kupferschmid notes.

4. CSIs are directly involved with the investigation, raids and arrests. Not so. “Crime scenes are processed by law enforcement officers, and CSIs seldom see a suspect or question them,” he says.

5. CSIs can get DNA evidence from any surface. Wrong again. “We can get a guy’s DNA if he steals a car and drives it for hours, but not just from him brushing an object with his hand,” Kupferschmid explains.

6. DNA analyses provide two results: Yes, he did it, or no, he didn’t do it. Only on TV. “That DNA may have been left long before or after a crime. It takes old-fashioned, gumshoe detective work to determine guilt.”

7. CSIs cannot only pull up DNA, but they can tell whether it came from tears, saliva, and sweat or cremated remains. Not so. “It’s just DNA…and cremation destroys all the biological elements completely,” Kupferschmid says.

8. Everyone is in a DNA database. That makes Kupferschmid laugh: “There are only 10 million DNA profiles in the U.S. database out of more than 300 million-plus Americans.”

9. When a DNA match is indicated, crime lab computers flash big red letters declaring a “99 percent match,” and a driver’s license photo for good measure. No. “There are no pictures, no match notices – just a number code to search another database for a name to go with that number.”

10. CSIs conduct DNA testing while munching snacks or joking with a colleague. That has Kupferschmid chuckling again: “There’s no eating or drinking while conducting tests, and it’s hard to converse through a surgical mask.”

“There are a lot of positives from television’s increasing of the general public’s understanding of DNA,” says Kupferschmid, who has more than two decades of forensic DNA experience. “But juries now expect DNA or forensics in every case they hear. It’s ‘Hey, I watch these shows – where’s the evidence?’ That’s proving a real problem for prosecutors these days.”

Jurors anticipate quick, clear cut opinions of guilt or innocence like those reached within the space of a one-hour episode of their favorite show. “A lot of what they see can be done in real labs, but it’s never done in an hour – and never done so slickly,” Kupferschmid adds with a laugh.

About Sorenson Forensics

Sorenson Forensics ( is a leading provider of advanced forensic DNA services and offers industry-best casework assistance to federal, state and local crime laboratories, assists officers of the court in individual criminal cases, and offers comprehensive forensic DNA services to private industry clients. Sorenson Forensics provides services, such as STR and Y-STR analysis; comprehensive biology screening; full serology testing, including blood, semen and other body fluid identification; DNA case consultation; expert testimony, validation services and laboratory optimization services. The Sorenson Forensics team consists of individuals internationally recognized for their extensive public and private crime lab experience and for their rigor in the exacting requirements of forensics casework. Sorenson Forensics has established an extraordinary record for helping to crack difficult-to-resolve cases, including previously unsolved “cold cases.”


Sorenson Forensics Public Relations
Amanda Butterfield, 801-461-9786

Release Summary

Sorenson Forensics Executive Director Tim Kupferschmid has put together a list of the 10 most common myths in TV crime labs.


Sorenson Forensics Public Relations
Amanda Butterfield, 801-461-9786