Caine Scrutiny

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

'MIAMI''S VICE He may have the rubber gloves and tool box, but how close is Caruso's ''CSI: Miami'' to the truth?
'MIAMI''S VICE He may have the rubber gloves and tool box,
but how close is Caruso's ''CSI: Miami'' to the truth?

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.''

How real is ''CSI: Miami''?  
THE BLOODHOUND GANG Speedle and Calleigh (Emily Procter) look for clues
THE BLOODHOUND GANG Speedle and Calleigh (Emily Procter) look for clues

TRUTH: REAL CSIs DON'T FOOL WITH THE MICROWAVE When Caine discovers the microwave beeping in the kitchen, he uses a nearby napkin to push the door release button and see what's inside. Smart, right? ''He should have used a fork or a knife to touch the button,'' says Fisher, noting the napkin would smear fingerprint evidence. And tromping on the kitchen floor isn't his brightest move, either. ''With linoleum, you can get some decent footprints, so you want to be careful where you step.'' Surprisingly, those nifty paper booties often worn on the show wouldn't have helped. ''Those are to protect your own shoes, not the crime scene,'' says Fisher.

TRUTH: REAL CSIs ARE MULTI-TASKERS When Caine gets involved with a case, he thinks of nothing else until the bad guy is behind bars. Unfortunately, that kind of thinking would probably get him canned in the real world. ''In Los Angeles, we draw a new murder case every two weeks,'' says Fisher. ''But in addition to that, everyone usually has a whole bunch of other cases already in various stages of completion.''

Another less-than-dramatic element cut out of the TV equation is the enormous amount of paperwork involved. ''With a case like the one on the show, in which four people are killed, by the time you finished writing up the reports the file would be about three inches thick,'' says Fisher.

TRUTH: THE SCIENCE REALLY IS RIGHT ON...MOSTLY While much of the lab work on the show hits the mark, some science is necessarily tweaked for drama's sake. When Caine tests a swab of red stuff at the crime scene, his result -- human blood -- is only half right. ''You'd find out it's blood, but not human blood, with that test,'' says Fisher. ''And the blood didn't look great. A little more brown would do it, but that's personal preference.''

Later, when Megan Donner (Kim Delaney) runs a battery of tests on the toddler's bloody jumper, the quickie results are wishful thinking. ''The equipment they're using isn't terribly far off the mark, but they might expect to get the results in a couple of days, not ten minutes,'' says Fisher. ''And that assumes this is the only case they're working on.''

TRUTH: LABS AND CRIME SCENES DON'T HAVE MOOD LIGHTING The icy blue lighting in the lab on TV is a whole lot nicer than the reality: glaring bright light from above. ''Usually labs are very, very bright so you can see what you're doing,'' says Fisher. The same energy-conserving approach is taken at the crime scene when Caine and Delko (Adam Rodriquez) search the gloomy kitchen with mini-flashlights. ''[Delko] is holding the flashlight at a low angle because he's looking for fingerprints,'' says Fisher. ''But Horatio is scanning the room. If he couldn't turn on the lights, he'd bring in portable lights. Maybe the power was out?''