Waiting for Justice: Pressures and problems - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Waiting for Justice: Pressures and problems

Dubuque (KWWL) -- It's a fact: Some criminals are never charged and others walk free. Prosecutors have the burden of proof; they must prove a person's guilt beyond reasonable doubt, and in a television era, some attorneys say that's getting harder.

In part two of the special series, "Waiting for Justice", we examine the pressures investigators and attorneys face when crime dramas rule prime time.

Criminal investigators in Dubuque handle between 55 and 60 thousand cases a year. That means a lot of evidence coming in.

"Hundreds of thousands of items every year," Captain Mark Dalsing said.

A single crime scene can mean meticulously collecting hundreds of pieces of evidence.

"You can't overlook anything. Simple things like beverage containers, pop cans, beer cans, we don't know if the suspect touched them," Dalsing said.

Physical evidence is getting more important, especially if a case is in the hands of a jury.

"I've had jurors after a case say, 'Well, I heard all the witnesses, but where was the evidence?'" Christine Corken, Dubuque County First Assistant Attorney, said.

It's something law experts call "the CSI Effect".

"They want something they can feel, touch, see. We're a video society. We watch a lot of T.V., and this is how people expect us to do our jobs," Corken said.

Prosecutors and investigators say crime dramas -- like Law and Order -- can create a distorted view of the legal system.

"What it's forced us to do is change how we pick juries. It changes how we present evidence," Corken said.

"They're looking for the current smoking gun, which is dna. And we've actually had cases where jurors have come back and said, 'You lacked DNA, you lacked some other evidence we think you could have got, and that's the reason we're not going to find guilty,'" Dalsing said.

Police say physical evidence is really only a part of a bigger picture --

"Our primary tool is still the investigators and their skill for interview and interrogation," Dalsing said.

But with technology like DNA testing, a concrete scientific match with less "he-said, she-said" on the stand is more likely to be convincing and convicting.

"Sometimes an attorney's option is just to discredit the witness, and make them look bad on the stand, and make their testimony unbelievable. Wheras physical evidence; it's a lot harder to argue with science," Dalsing said.

Online Reporter:  Jamie Grey

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