FORENSICS | Richardson Bite Mark case exposes ABFO experts’ assurances as folly

Being “tough on crime” is a cliche used by some involved in politics, law enforcement, and used by certain forensic practitioners. I prefer the phrase “smart on crime.”  Both may sound similar, but the “smart” inference means that forensic developments, empirical research and vigorous study of legal outcomes in cases of questionable forensics are now in play. Almost 50% of 311 DNA based exoneration cases have questionable or inaccurate prosecution forensic expertise. These 311 individuals have been represented by the Innocent Project and the Innocence Network. Both are  national litigation and public policy organizations dedicated to exonerating wrongfully convicted individuals by DNA testing and reforming the criminal justice system to prevent future injustice.

This brand new 1/2/2014 article in  THE VERGE focuses on the intersection between two diametrically opposite forensic methods. Its a very good read and details the most recent exoneration of Gerald Richardson via DNA  colliding  with the “elite” bite mark experts (the ABFO). Although its title is a little confusing ( “Is DNA Analysis Stuck in the Past?” ) the  article contains concerned opinion about modern DNA science and its interface with law enforcement crime labs (who appear “stuck” according Law Professor David A. Harris,  The Verge reporter’s named source). This piece also runs over the September 2013 THE VERGE piece where these bite experts (sorry for the following pun) bite back at critics. 

BTW, for decades, this US forensic dental group, the ABFO, has established a curriculum that poses as an advanced dental certification. The ADA does not’ recognize it. The AAFS give them carte blanche.

Here’s a snippet of Harris comments and opinions from the article:

About that: an ideal DNA swab has one clear contributor. The Gerard Richardson case is a perfect example: one unknown person bit into a known person’s flesh. Analysts needed only to determine whether Richardson’s DNA matched that of theunknown person. It didn’t, and so his charges were dropped.

But when the number of unknown contributors to a DNA sample goes above one — or when the sample is tarnished in some way, or determined to be too miniscule to be analyzed by a person — there’s not much than can be done under current standards. Complicated DNA samples are thus called “uninterpretable” and often ignored.

This is no secret, either. Even the quintessential document about forensic science written in the last decade — the National Academy of Sciences’ (NAS) Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States, published in August, 2009 — laments that “DNA tests performed on a contaminated or otherwise compromised sample cannot be used reliably to identify or eliminate an individual as the perpetrator of a crime.”

About csidds

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

1 Response to FORENSICS | Richardson Bite Mark case exposes ABFO experts’ assurances as folly

  1. csidds says:

    Reblogged this on FORENSIC FOCUS @ CSIDDS | News, Research, Trends and commented:

    The upcoming (next week) American Academy of Forensic Sciences meeting (2014)should result in changes regarding the relationship between the AAFS and the bitemark certifying group. I think their history of bad convictions are finally going to catch up with them via the year long National Commission of Forensic Science scrutiny of the AAFS.

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