In response to chilling mistakes and misdeeds involving the execution of
Todd Willingham and the 25 year false incarceration of
Michael Morton, things are changing regarding forensic experts in one US state. It is note worthy that nearly 50% (154 cases) of DNA proven wrongful convictions were generated or aided by faulty forensics testimony posing as “scientific.” This is only one statistical baseline, the other data set is at the National Registry of Exonerations. (Look up False or Misleading Forensic Evidence (F/MFE) in its Glossary).
The TX Forensic Science Commission was established by the legislature for the following purposes:
“The mission of the FSC is to strengthen the use of forensic science in criminal investigations and courts by:
- developing a process for reporting professional negligence or misconduct
- investigating allegations of professional negligence or misconduct
- promoting the development of professional standards and training
- recommending legislative improvement
One of the FSC’s first tasks is to open a review of the AAFS recognized band of bitemark interpreters (the ABFO, a much media maligned and overblown dental cross over into forensics). Their active bitemark numbers approximate 39 in the United States. Over the decades, the ABFO TX contingent has been active as its Super Senior members brought bitemark matching to courts since the 70’s in homicide and child abuse cases.
A complaint was filed by the Innocence Project’s Strategic Litigation component to the Commission about the threat to public safety this bitemark group has posed over decades. This continues to present time within the state (tragically, as in every state in the Union). The FSC investigation was launched about a month ago. The ABFO had its first day of discourse with them this last Wednesday in Dallas.
Of course the ABFO objected vociferously that past “mistakes” of its “bad apples” and “better methods” and improved “vocabulary” with an accompanying checklist will outstrip what the National Academy of Sciences denigrated them about in 2009. Recently, a federal civil court judge called them “astrologers” and “palm-readers.” But again, for the umpteenth time they “promise to do better.” Here are some recent communiques from the ABFO leadership (in bold). NOTE: [abc… ] are my comments.
“The ABFO is acutely aware of cases involving bitemark analysis in the past that have contributed to SEVERAL [emphasis added] individuals wrongfully being convicted.” [The number is 24 and counting.]
“We have learned and we have grown and evolved.” [Read more on that below].
” We tried to get across the point that we have taken to heart all those things from old cases, and the way we do bitemark analyses now is not the way that analyses were done “back in the day….” [Once DNA profiling began to overturn bitemark opinions, this subgroup of forensic dentists ignored warnings that it would rock their “status” as credible witnesses. That was 20 years ago. Not coincidentally, their casework has dropped precipitacely since then ].
“The ABFO is unable to access a database” on all the cases its members have conducted over the years.” [That is a lie. The ABFO requires it “diplomates” to re-certify every 5 years including written reference to the casework they accomplished. Read more about that below.]
“It is also the ABFO’s belief that bitemark analysis, when conducted using current ABFO standards, guidelines and terminology, based on continuous study and scientific research and with conservative conclusions,can be extremely helpful in the legal system.” [They ridicule any research and attack researchers of bitemarks who undermine their bogus assumptions. And the ABFO has not conducted a single peer reviewed scientific study that has survived the test of time by indepenent study since its conception.]
” In any case, as it turns out, the Commission does not really have authority to do much besides investigate bitemark cases and issue some recommendations–and it seems they are going to have a fairly difficult time in identifying all the bitemark cases that they may want to investigate…..they apparently hope that odontologists will voluntarily disclose to the panel a list of all their cases….ummm….yeah, maybe, maybe not…..”
The above is so self serving and cynical as to be sickening. “Grown and evolved?” Not so much.
Its hard to avoid their base rhetoric, but let me state very simply:
For 40 years they have and are proactively teaching unsuspecting dentists to practice a hypothesis that has no accompanying data because it is not derived from any empirical testing. Science it is not. It is a courtroom chimera constructed by prosecutors that was gleeful accepted by gullible dentists. Well meaning, but as I said, “not scientists.”
Science? None. Zip. Nada.
The FSC needs to stay the course regarding what their standards of forensic review involves. Its focus must be the scientific method’s relationship with criminal justice. Platitudes, promises, and future “breakthroughs” in testing by the ABFO (they have failed 3 times in proficiency testing and score a zero in the validation department) will continue to pour forth whenever they get a forum. Its also telling and obvious that they have no personal liability for the cases they have messed up. They risk nothing.
The elephant in the room of forensics is the legal inertia resisting reform that exists from years of courtroom acceptance for more than just bitemarks (i.e. hair, bullet lead, exaggerating experts, etc.). Acceptance is no substitute for using scientific approaches already in place within academia, medicine and industry. If it was paramount, Coca-Cola would still have opium in it.
Lastly, as a relevant and closer parallel, any medical/dental diagnostic or therapeutic procedure with a fraction of bitemarks’ list of supposition, non-testing, courtroom failures and damage to its patients (the innocent defendants) would have been banned by any medical society in the world. These 39 “skin-readers” still are getting a pass.
Its time to stop them.