FORENSIC BITEMARKS: NOT CSI: ITS MORE LIKE A FORD PINTO

For my international readers, a Ford  Pinto (made in the 1970’s) was an American car whose gas tank filler neck had a bad tendency to break leading to explosions in automobile accidents. It was sold as a cheap but safe means of transportation but its risks outweighed its benefits. In 2004 Forbes named the Pinto in its list of “worst cars of all-time.”

The few American bite mark proponents roaming around the US should be considered the Pinto’s manufacturer, selling an idea and theories of their “helping” the criminal justice system. The risk of mis-identifying the wrong person as a criminal seems of little concern to them. Their “accidents” are more like train wrecks and have to date ruined two  dozen lives of the wrongfully convicted. If I may use a third analogy: The medical medical and pharmaceutical industries would have taken any risky procedure or drug off the market by now. If they don’t, severe damage awards occur. Yet the bite mark brigade still exists in US courts. The American Dental Association does not recognize these  state licensed dentists  testifying in courts about their “dental science.” Court acceptance in the US dates from 1954 (State v. Doyle, Texas) relied on “recognized” dental materials and methods” in determining a biter’s identification  (emphasized in another Frye jurisdiction in 1975: State v. Marx). 37 US states use a form of the Daubert standard (developed in federal court in 1993) which is a collection of Frye and a “scientific checklist.”

The best and most recent literature review (42 pages) of the fallacy of this judicial acceptance of unreliable forensic  “science” is here. It also collates the thirty years of legal objections and scientific criticisms to bite mark evidence brought into trials. One direct quote from this legal treatise sums up the facts of the treatment given to bite mark dentists in criminal courts.

“But, in contrast to the routine and extensive challenges to expert testimony in civil cases, especially in toxic torts, the validity of expert testimony is rarely challenged in criminal cases. 11 (in this footnote: “interestingly, in both Daubert and Frye jurisdictions, the exception to this is DNA testimony, where courts appear to routinely examine validity. See Brim v. State, 695 So. 2d 268 (Fla. 1997) (scrutinizing each step of DNA evidence for its scientific validity under Frye ).”
See page 1371 where two of my papers are cited (14 and 15) which present opinions on this subject.

Why does the judicial system, acting as the protector of human rights and life and liberty of its citizens, put up with a defective product known to cause erroneous judicial outcomes? The recent acceptance in a NYC court  allowed the bite mark dentists into an upcoming murder trial. The judge stated bite mark evidence comports with the established rules of evidence for the state. New York courts use the Frye standard, which got rid of lie detectors in court in 1923. This was “cutting edge”  ………90 years ago….

Let’s take a short trip across the river from the Manhattan trial, and observe something about bite marks occurring in criminal court in New Jersey.

It is a also criminal hearing on bite mark evidence. But its been 19 years since the original trial. The defendant in this case is arguing new DNA evidence should exonerate him and release him from prison. The DA is vigorously objecting to the defendant’s attorney, Vanessa Potkin of the NY Innocence Project, stating that two unknown male DNA profiles taken from the victim’s body (fingernails and sexual assault kit) are insufficient to overturn the conviction.

The DA has bite mark evidence supporting the defendant’s guilt and criminality. Here is this story. 

The DA’s dentist is an ABFO member and a colleague of Dr. Lowell Levine of Albany New York. In fact Dr. Levine has recently been educating police investigators in particular cases using bite mark evidence. In this link, he describes to the audience about his “adjusting” bite  mark evidence due to the presence of orthodontic braces worn by the biter.

For some reason I cannot find any scientific literature on how a very qualified forensic dentist like Dr. Levine can do this. Maybe the ABFO leadership will be interested, considering their complaints about “bad apples” .

About csidds

Dr. Michael Bowers is a long time forensic consultant in the US and international court systems.
This entry was posted in criminal justice, Forensic Science, forensic testimony, wrongful convictions and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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