This federal court (from the Chicago area) opinion speaks to how people exonerated of serious crimes have little legal recourse (having no state statutes and judicial case law privileges or right to sue most government “actors.”) for recompense for damages caused by experts’ opinions brought forth by prosecutors during their original trial. The judge states much the same here, while saying that exoneree Bennie Starks was “a victim of injustice.” In denying most of Starks’ lawsuit, he sounds almost regretful about the legal outcome. The full opinion.
Part of Bennie Starks Illinois federal civil suit claimed that the then DA’s 2 bitemark experts had personal liability as they were associated with his wrongful conviction in 1986. They have never repudiated their original opinion despite disagreeing colleagues reports, depositions, and DNA results from the crime victim that did not match Bennie Starks.
Other commentators in the media have expressed some interesting responses:
Radley Balko at the Washington Post states on @radleybalko : “Federal judge: Bite mark matching is fraudulent, but analysts who helped convict an innocent man still aren’t liable.”
Dan Hinkle at the Chicago Tribune says the case will continue to a August 17 trial on the remaining claims against Waukegan police. He continues with the fact that “Lake County has a history of bungling major criminal cases, and that Starks is one of six men from the jurisdiction cleared by DNA or medical evidence in recent years.”
The 2 dentists’ attorney stated that they “should never have been sued”, as their testimony was “offering opinions” and the dentists are “still highly respected.”
Starks’ attorney plans to appeal.
More from the judge.
But Federal Judge Feinerman’s conclusion summarizes contents within his final opinion that attack the use of bitemark matching in courtrooms. He cites similar findings from the National Academy of Sciences 2009 “Strengthening Forensic Sciences” report , legal commentaries and new research from the University of Buffalo as substantive support for this opinion. Then also adds “motivational bias” and false claims of scientific validity to this list. The part about bitemark pattern matching flaws starts on page 20.
Then he finishes with:
“The criminal justice system occasionally delivers injustice, and Starks appears to have been the victim of “experts peddling junk science to credulous judges and jurors” and “it is easy to sympathize with Starks’s plight.”
Judge Feinerman plans to keep an eye on what happens in the upcoming Starks’ trial (using claims he did not deny) against the city of Waukegan.
2 dentists sue colleague for criticizing their bite-mark testimony. Chicago Tribune 2011.
A bite-mark matching advocacy group just conducted a study that discredits bite mark evidence. Washington Post. 2015.
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