How real is ''CSI: Miami''? A leading forensic scientist reveals how and why David Caruso and company fudge the facts
David Caruso, CSI: Miami
Credit: CSI Miami: Robert Voets

Never doubt the public appetite for gritty, gory realism: ”CSI: Miami” (CBS, Mon., 10 p.m.) is a first-year ratings winner (a top 30 show, it has pummeled NBC’s similarly-themed but less authentic ”Crossing Jordan”) and is up for Best New Drama on The People’s Choice Awards (CBS, Jan. 12, 9p.m.).

But exactly how much of the blood spatter, hematracing, and nifty scientific jargon is accurate? asked Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department Scientific Services Bureau Director Barry A.J. Fisher to view a sample episode (”Slaughterhouse,” which unravels the mass murder of a family) and explain what’s real, what’s tweaked, and why Hollywood, even when it’s neck-deep in gore, is a lot swankier than the real thing.

REAL CSIs DON’T GET HUMMERS OR CASUAL FRIDAYS Horatio Caine (Caruso) and Detective Sevilla (Wanda De Jesus) certainly look cool pulling up to the crime scene in a snazzy SUV, but most real criminalists are stuck driving around in standard issue utility vans, police cars, or their own vehicles. And even the head of the crime lab probably doesn’t wear Armani, especially not to prowl around a blood-spattered crime scene.

Still, that doesn’t mean a CSI, even one as slacker-cool as Tim Speedle (Rury Cochrane), could get by with his sloppy work attire of 5 o’clock shadow, cargo pants, and ratty concert T-shirt. ”This guy might be a personnel problem,” says Fisher, noting that the media attention surrounding the O.J. Simpson case made police agencies especially aware of presenting a polished image at all times. ”People carry around grungies with them or throw on a jumpsuit if the crime scene is messy, but you always show up in presentable business attire.”

TRUTH: SUNBURN ISN’T AN EXACT SCIENCE In the episode, a blood-covered toddler is found wandering the streets, but no one can figure out where she came from. Caine surmises that the sunburn on one side of her face indicates she’s been traveling due north. ”I doubt a sunburn would come up that fast,” says Fisher. ”And the sun travels in an arc, so the burn wouldn’t be so clearly defined. But it makes for a good storyline.”

TRUTH: HORATIO IS A RARE BIRD Sure, Caine’s got impressive credits: He was a cop, then earned a science degree to become a criminalist, and later even worked on the bomb squad. Still, that wouldn’t give him the right to poke his nose into every aspect of a real investigation. ”He’s a composite character, like ‘Quincy,”’ says Fisher. ”But his actions would be pretty bizarre in a real police department.”

For instance, when Caine drives around town looking for the source of the toddler’s bloody footprints, then bursts onto the crime scene calling out for suspects, he’s poaching a cop’s job. ”Uniformed policemen are the first to arrive; then, once they clear the scene, they call detectives, who, finally, call lab personnel,” says Fisher. ”And even though Horatio’s a sworn police officer, for him to enter the building with gun drawn is beyond the pale.”

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