Forensic dentist defends the Innocence Project against “Anti Forensic Science” AAFS/ABFO Accuser

The California Dental Association Journal, in its July 2015 publication presented a multi contributor article on forensic dentistry. Having good PR for the efforts of largely volunteer dentists doing human identification cases and being trained and available in mass disaster responses is gratifying. The only hitch in the piece was the portion from a bitemark reader of this California contingent praising the method’s contributions to criminal justice and society in general. Needless to say, I had some objections to that part which I published here.

It’s only a handful within this California forensic dental group (30 in all of 32,000 dentists in CA) whom are bitemark dentists. To put a context to what shows up in the media about bitemark’s “relevant scientific community,” the number  in the United States and Canada purveyors of bitemark dental services can be determined to be 39. This is based on the number of participants taking a recent reliability test administered by the ABFO (out of a total of 100 members of the “elite” ). The 2015 test results were embarassing. The numbers of bitemark readers become even more scarce in Europe and Australia as media accounts indicate only a handful of cases occur. One Aussie dentist advised a journalist last week that a 1954 bitemark in cheese is the “best case in forensic dentistry.”

That said, an experienced dentist in both clinical and forensic dentistry wrote a response to the CDAJ about statements contained in its July article. Here is his letter to the editor in the September 2015 edition.

“I always look forward to the Journal’s occasional entry into the world of forensic odontology. From John Doe identification to mass disaster assistance and victim identifi cations, these dedicated practitioners are accomplishing many worthwhile things. The one facet of this specialty that I was most interested in reading about in the June 2015 issue, however, was bite-mark analysis. Considering the many exonerations recently of persons whose convictions were based solely or partially on bite-mark evidence, I was anxious to see how this practice would be presented to our membership. While “Bite-Mark and Pattern Injury Analysis: A Brief Status Overview” did initially at least acknowledge that there have been some instances where bite-mark evidence has led to false convictions, its author, Gregory Golden, DDS, seemed to spend a good portion of his article belittling the Innocence Project and its proponents as a fringe group to whom no one should pay any attention. The Innocence Project is an admirable group of individuals dedicated to correcting false convictions, regardless of the reasons. They are not trying to get guilty people out of prison. I think it would have been prudent for CDA to have had an opposing viewpoint alongside Dr. Golden’s piece in view of how controversial bite-mark evidence has become. JAMES KENT HOLLENBACK, DDS Santa Paula, Calif.”

The author of the CDAJ bitemark section responds:

Comment: in this following response, the author (a past president of the ABFO and a long-time Fellow of the AAFS) is trifling about the number of cases where District Attorneys use of bite mark evidence contributions have led to convictions which later became exonerations based on DNA. He should re-read this Washington Post article from Feb 2015. The number is 24.

“Thank you, Dr. Hollenback, for your response to the article on bitemark and pattern analysis — fi elds that by nature are controversial and deserve discussion on their respective roles in forensic investigation. What you described as a “belittling” of the Innocence Project (IP) was a compilation of my experience working with that organization at its request and its subsequent contempt for the forensic sciences in general. Every statement in the article about the IP is accurate and verifi able. In May of 2015, an IP lawyer sent his letter of resignation to the board of directors of the Innocence Project of Texas, saying that the national outfi t “… went from being a small nonprofi t to an organization with a multimillion dollar budget. As its size grew, so did its appetite for money …”2 In November of 2014, the Chicago Innocence Project was investigated by the Cook County State’s Attorney who found coercive and unacceptable tactics were used to unlawfully acquire a confession from a man who had served 15 years for the same crime for which an IP exoneree was released from death row.3 On the IP’s website, one of the most interesting statistics provided shows that 235 of the 325 exonerations to date were from eyewitness misidentifi cation. 4 Its data also shows that of the 154 “invalidated/improper” forensics cases cited, bite marks were tagged for only 1.7 percent (fewer than three cases), yet the IP claims at least two dozen cases exist where faulty bite-mark evidence was part of the conviction process. I don’t expect IP lawyers to change their views on bite-mark evidence in the near future. The American Board of Forensic Odontology will hopefully continue to search for ways to improve the science through validation testing and research.”

[references omitted] but are here within the CDAJ article on page 6.


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, criminal justice, criminal justice reform, CSI, DNA profiling, forensic science reform and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Forensic dentist defends the Innocence Project against “Anti Forensic Science” AAFS/ABFO Accuser

  1. mbhauptle says:

    indefensible rhetoric on the part of the ABFO! How is it acceptable that any percentage of wrongful convictions based in part, or wholly, on erroneous bitemark testimony, be found defensible? Clearly an ethics violation ought be leveled. If this “pseudo science” is perpetrated as “accepted practice” by my Forensic Odontology community, then count me out of the Frye Standard. The Forensic Odontology OSAC Commitee should step up to the plate and define error rate under Daubert. Plus, these bitemark DDS’s and DMD’s should meet the ethical standard set forth in the AAFS Bylaws by rendering “status post” bitemark re-analysis on all 24 cases, regardless of outcome. I’m going to bet malpractice premiums were paid up by these bitemark dentists. Perhaps the insurance carrier will fund this “further” scientific “validation testing and research”. It’s all rhetoric. There never will be a standard protocol formulated for these three reasons: The Forensic Pathology community does not “age” bruises, the morphology of incisal edges are far from unique, and the TMJ is a translational, rotational, articulation.

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