Forensics: As usual, lawyers influencing “rules” on decision-making truly are ignorant

Forensics, Justice, and the Case for Science-Based Decision Making

The US Department of Justice ran this show.  Simon Cole at the U of Irvine writes a clear expose’ (at the above link) on the details of a newly adopted series of testimonial rules for federally run labs that the DOJ heralds as:

Rod’s POV on science and the police labs was previously and thoroughly viewed as scientifically inadequate in: “Rod Rosenstein still doesn’t get the problem with forensics” (Radley Balko at The Watch).

So, read Simon’s look at the intransigent and skewed science culture that the Prosecutors continue to uphold.

PS. Here is the DOJ database with links to these proclamations for various forensic practitioners.

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Forensics: Why bitemark matching is a pseudoscience. Courts need to pay attention.


This article is about the collision between legitimate forensic science versus bitemark “science” poseurs and the resulting damage to the US justice system. Review of a Forensic Pseudoscience. (accepted manuscript).

Much thanks to Elsevier ScienceDirect publisher Alexander Smith  and Journal of Forensics and Legal Medicine editor Tim Thompson for this publishing opportunity.


The forensic sciences are a combination of laboratory procedures and physical
comparisons of objects associated with victims, perpetrators, and crime scenes. The
former is largely university-based protocols adopted by crime labs. The latter is
predominantly pattern-matching tools originally developed by police examiners or
experts deemed by courts to be relevant to forensic matters. These Court accepted
experts bring their reasoning and conclusions into the legal arena. This subgroup of
forensics has undergone significant scrutiny in regards to its history of exaggerated
claims and weak scientific. This paper addresses the rise and fall of
bitemark pattern analysis (i.e. “matching” bitemarks in human flesh to human teeth) in the environment of opposing interests and agendas.

The Journal of Forensic and Legal Medicine

Please cite this article as: Bowers CM, Review of a Forensic Pseudoscience: Identification of Criminals from Bitemark Patterns, Journal of Forensic and Legal Medicine,


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Forensics: A look at DNA transfer at crime scenes says special training needed due to highly variable interpretations

Cover image Forensic Science International: Genetics

This pay-for-view article at FSI Genetics should be made free-share for a certain period of time. Its focus on touch-DNA transfer interpretations suggests that the current opinions on DNA circumstances are suspect and standards are lacking. This is a very important subject since police crime labs have a way of “spinning’ these DNA interpretations for a particular purpose.


Understanding the variables impacting DNA transfer is highly relevant
DNA transfer awareness is required to limit contamination risk
Dedicated training is required for experts providing opinion on DNA transfer
More research is required to generate probability estimates for more situations

The abstract: 

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Forensics: Another example of Cop run DNA lab running against a forensic expert calling their “testing” unreliable.

Facade of the OCME building

Don’t ever think that police don’t exert terrific influence over supposed “independent” offices run by forensic pathologists and forensic scientists. This story started in 2016 when a NYC senior ME kicked back on an in-house DNA “experiment” that went into use and quickly came under adverse scrutiny by the Innocence Project’s Barry Scheck.

Here is one NY politician (aka: OCME counsel: i.e. lawyer) talking about the ME, Marina Stajic.

“She sucks,” seethed Mimi Mairs, then OCME special counsel, in an email sent hours after Stajic took her stance as a member of the state Forensic Science Commission.

Nothing better than hearing a lawyer talking about science, no?

Stajic’s boss, Sandra Brown wasn’t much better. Here is her glory page. 

New York Post



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Forensics: Medical errors 3rd highest cause of death in the US.

This John Hopkins Institute study has a direct connection to inadequate death certification and CDC reporting capabilities. It was published in Tuesday

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Forensics connection to Kashoggi murder leads to Australian ‘observer’ autopsy training

Related image

(Unconfirmed photo from Twitter)

It seems clear that this individual purported to be on the Khashoggi murder audio tape is a “Dr” of some sort. He popped up in Australia for a few months to get familiar with CT autopsies. He claimed he was in charge of Saudi mass disaster recovery and identification.

The Washington Post covers much more detail about this Dr. Tubaigy in this news article.

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Forensics: Another grassroots attempt to establish a Forensic Science Commission in Wisconsin. This paper written by PhD candidates.

The LEO crime labs won’t like this intrusion on their domains. A 2005-2008 study suggesting similar went nowhere in the WI legislature.

Posted in costs of wrongful convictions, Crime lab scandal, criminal justice, criminal justice reform, CSI, DNA mixtures, Exoneration costs, Forensic Science Bias | Leave a comment

Forensics: Excuses for using inaccurate dental ageing methods fill this interview with University of Texas adjunct professor Dr. David Senn

The UT system made $16,000 so far this year from ICE cases involving children claiming to be children. The method is quite popular with the man hired to do it. He also considers ” bitemark matching” to be useful for law enforcement purposes.

In this interview with Vice News, he uses identical excuses and deflections about ageing immigrant children as he uses defending bitemarks. In 2015 the Texas Forensic Science Commission thoroughly rejected his claims about bitemarks. It should do the same with his iterations about ageing wisdom teeth “with a 95% level of confidence.”

The U.S. is checking immigrant kids’ teeth to see if they actually belong in adult detention

ICE and ORR are using controversial dental science and race studies to figure out how old kids are. SHARE TWEET

In the U.S. immigration system, the difference between being 17 and 18 is a crucial one. Undocumented minors who cross the border are housed under the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement. They stay in shelters, not detention centers, and they are on a path to be released to family-member sponsors. They also receive special protections under the law. Immigrants 18 and older, however, fall under the jurisdiction of ICE. They are often kept in detention centers that are akin to prisons.

Young immigrants, though, don’t always come with birth certificates or other documentation of their age. When that’s the case, ORR contractors and ICE sometimes turn to a highly disputed science to determine how old the immigrants are: forensic odontology. ORR and its contractors work with specialized dentists to conduct “age assessment” reports on minors suspected of being adults. 

Immigrant detainees are X-rayed, and those images are sent to a forensic dentist, who looks at the person’s wisdom teeth and performs a statistical analysis, factoring in a person’s race and gender using studies on different dental populations.

Neither ORR nor ICE discloses how many of these assessments are ordered per year, or how often they are used as evidence of age. 

Read: This toddler got sick in ICE detention. Two months later she was dead

ORR is prohibited from using forensic odontology exclusively to determine age by the 2008 Trafficking Victims Reauthorization and Protection Act. But the agency has broken that law in the past. In 2016 a federal judge found that ORR had used X-rays alone to send a Somali boy to ICE detention. The judge ordered that the child be returned to ORR custody. 

ORR contractors have continued to order dental assessments. Email records obtained by VICE News show that a Southwest Key shelter for immigrant children in Arizona used the method in April of this year to designate an immigrant as 18 and refer them to ICE custody. Southwest Key declined to comment on the referral. 

In the 2016 case, the odontologist who analyzed the reports was David Senn, director of the Center for Education and Research in Forensics at the University of Texas San Antonio. To make an age estimate, Senn analyzes dental development and inputs data into a program he helped develop called UT-AGE, along with information on the subject’s sex and race. Using statistical data, it then produces an estimated age range, mean age, and a probability that the person is over 18.

In interviews with VICE News, Senn said he has performed this service, mostly for ICE and ORR contractors, 79 times in 2018, and hundreds of times over the years, going back to the 1990s. His current rate for an age assessment is approximately $228 per examination, paid to his employer. 

How the information is used is the responsibility of immigration authorities, he said.

Read: ICE arrested over 100 undocumented immigrants without criminal convictions in the big Oakland raid

“My understanding of the immigration people’s responsibility is that they have to take a holistic approach. They have to look at all of the available evidence and then combine all of that evidence into a decision about whether or not someone has reached the age of majority. That is not a decision that I make, and our reports do not indicate that,” he said.

“What they do with that information is with them,” he said. “They have the legal responsibility for doing that. We’re just reporting data based on the development of the teeth.”

“Mistakes are going to be made when you deal with estimates, and the government agency is responsible for analyzing all that information,” he said.

Disputed science

The American Board of Forensic Odontologists’ Standards and Guidelines for Age Assessment says that age assessments play a “useful role in assisting legal authorities” in determining age cases, but it cautions dentists that “use of other age-assessment modalities such as anthropologic methodologies should be considered if available.”

Other forensic odontologists are critical of using this kind of analysis to determine age in a legal setting. Iain Pretty, an odontologist in the U.K. who provided expertise to the Innocence Project on dental age assessments, called it a “minefield of both lack of science but also significant ethical concerns.”

After the Department of Health and Human Services was banned from using dental exams as the sole determiner of age in 2008, it came up with a policy that conformed with the law: Radiographs “may be used to determine age, but only in conjunction with other evidence.” If the radiograph or other medical assessment determines the probability an individual is 18 or older exceeds 75 percent, the agency can turn that person over to DHS — as long as it’s considered as part of the “totality of the evidence.”

But in that case involving the Somali teen, no other evidence was apparently used. Senn examined radiographs of the boy, who was known in court filings as “BIC.” Because Senn determined the juvenile was “African,” he compared his teeth to a dataset of American blacks mostly taken at a dental college and office in Tennessee, and an Arkansas prison. 

The detainee was found to be between 17.1 and 23.7 years old — with 92.55 percent confidence that he was over 18. 

Increased scrutiny

In court filings, Matt Adams, a lawyer for the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project who worked, argued that ORR had relied only on the dental evidence to assess age. “My assumption was that the agency relied upon that probability percentage then to make that determination that the client is no longer a child,” Adams said.

A federal judge agreed, and said that ORR’s reliance on just the X-rays broke the law — and the juvenile was released.

Adams said his client was not told by ORR or its contractors of the purpose of his dental exams.

Senn acknowledged that he doesn’t generally know if children were told why the exams were being conducted, and said that authorities not obtaining such consent is “a problem.” But he said he’s “comfortable doing these examinations based on the treatment requests that are given to me by these agencies.” 

“If the law decides that is not sufficient, then those practices should end”

“If the law decides that is not sufficient, then those practices should end,” he said.

Now, dental forensic evidence is coming under increasing scrutiny in the courts.

On Wednesday, the Innocence Project filed an affidavit in a current case where ORR used Senn’s dental examinations to determine age — the first time the organization has intervened in an immigration case.

The affidavit says that the age estimation data in Senn’s report “reflects a fundamental lack of the statistical expertise required to offer meaningful analysis.”

Senn told VICE News that he disagreed with that assessment.

“We urge the court to reject Senn’s analysis and to hold submissions to a higher standard,” the affidavit reads.

“We’ve asked the Office of Refugee Resettlement, ICE, the Department of Homeland Security for information about how often this is being used, where it’s being used, and which of the dentists are engaged in this practice, and how often, and how much they’re being paid for the practice,” said Chris Fabricant, Director of Strategic Litigation for the organization. “And we’ve got no answers thus far.”

“Ancestry” categories

Senn’s method is relatively simple. A facility contracting with ORR sends him dental X-rays, usually along with a photo of the subject and information on their ethnicity, nationality, and sex.

Senn visually examines the teeth using a method known as Demirjian staging, and assigns a level of development to them: A, B, C, D, E, F, G, or H. It’s a subjective method, and the same two dentists will not always agree on the developmental stage of a tooth. 

Then, using his own assessment of race based on the provided biographical information and photograph, he also assigns them one of five “ancestry” categories: European, African, American Hispanic, Asian, or unknown.

“This is very subjective. It shouldn’t be used in cases of life and liberty.”

The racial information determines the study data that the program uses, since the consensus in the forensic community is that dental development varies widely according to ethnicity. 

Critical odontologists say the problem is that the dental analysis is based on just four studies relating dental development to ethnicity, and those studies include disclaimers about the limitations of the method. Nonetheless, anyone deemed “Asian” is assigned a study of Japanese juveniles. Anyone “American Hispanic” gets a study of North and South Texans of Hispanic descent, sometimes determined by their last name. Anyone “European” gets a study of American and Canadian “whites.” And anyone “African” gets a study of American blacks from an Arkansas penal facility and two practices in Tennessee. 

Anyone “unknown” gets an average of the four datasets. 

Senn agrees the data could be improved. “I would like to have a specific database for the country of origin that this individual comes from and base the estimation on that population only,” he said. “I just don’t have available to me population data for all of those places.”

With that information — tooth developmental stage, race, gender, and four studies — Senn’s program produces a range of possible ages for the examined client. The range is wide — generally around six years. It also produces a mean age, and a percentage probability that the client is over 18. 

Pretty, the odontologist working with the Innocence Project, argues that the results are intrinsically deceptive. When I put a percentage sign behind something and then put a ‘.55,’ it gives you an impression of precision, doesn’t it?” he said. “But I think it’s meaningless. How can you be ninety-two-point-five-five percent sure?”

Senn, though, emphasizes that the data supports a range — not a precise age–and that his reports make that clear. And when he’s unsure of a category, or not sure whether to assign one or choose “unknown,” Senn said he assigns the category that will produce the most “favorable” result — that is, the lowest age range.

“Sweeping generalizations”

Forensic odontologist Adam Freeman studied under Senn. They have disagreed over other forms of forensic evidence in the past. Now, he has serious concerns about the accuracy of the UT-AGE method. 

“You’re making these broad sweeping generalizations about ethnicity in huge populations as opposed to finer ones, and even then, if the best you can do is plus or minus three or four years, then that should bring some great concern to anybody using this technique for the purposes of developing an accurate, specific age of a person,” he said.

“This is very subjective,” Freeman said. “It shouldn’t be used in cases of life and liberty.”

To Senn, the problems with the method don’t negate its usefulness as a tool. “There’s very few teeth and bones still developing around the age of 18,” he said. “Dental is one of the most accessible, along with hand-wrist, to make that study with. So if it’s all that you have, you can criticize it, but you use what you have.” 

Cover: This undated photo provided by HHS’ Administration for Children and Families shows the shelter used to house unaccompanied foreign children in Tornillo, Texas. (HHS’ Administration for Children and Families via AP)

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Forensics: Unscientific, biased and exaggerated dental ageing in use by dentists hired by ICE

Image result for quack dentists

The subject of using the highly variable shapes of wisdom teeth to age asylum seeking immigrants claiming to be minors has been a recent topic of investigative reporters in the US and elsewhere in the world.

  • Here’s how ICE sent children seeking asylum to adult detention centers. Reveal
  • Migrant minor is held in adult detention facility for nearly a year after dental exam found he was likely 18. Los Angeles Times
  • Immigration agents X-raying migrants to determine age isn’t just illegal, it’s a misuse of science. The Conversation. 
  • Can dental X-rays determine a refugee’s age? The Independent


These articles describe the methods adopted by some dentists in writing reports for immigration authorities as being:

  • Professor of medical statistics at the Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health, Tim Cole, told the BBC these tests were “very inaccurate,” saying: “If you test children around the age of 18, or three years either side, in this way, the results get one third of the ages wrong.”
  • “The use of radiological assessment is extremely imprecise and can only give an estimate of within two years in either direction and the use of ionising radiation for this purpose is inappropriate. If not done for medical purposes it can be potentially dangerous for a child to undergo these X-rays.”
  • “In our experience, children as young as 14 are often incorrectly assessed as adults, and this can lead to serious repercussions, including children being placed in facilities with adults, in detention and in some cases going missing.”


Onto a real case from California:

I have been contacted by pro bono immigration legal defense projects whose clients claims of being younger than 18 at the time of entering the US are being rebutted by ICE-hired dentists.

The common thread in most of the dental reports generated and produced to courts by ICE  are scientifically inaccurate, show one-sided assumptions,  use the wrong population data, exaggerate and sometimes are a complete lie. Among these is this redacted set of dental x-rays from a dentist in the Los Angeles metropolitan area. His ICE report stated this client had a high probability of being over the age of 18.

The x-rays do not even show the roots of the client’s wisdom teeth.


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Forensics: Of course the DA now says the bitemark opinion is meaningless. DNA, fingerprint analysis sheds no new light on Metro East woman’s 1978 murder, but lawyers will appeal other issues
Prante covicted of Murder

Deputy Sheriff Robert Henke leads John N. Prante from the East Alton courthouse after his conviction for murder in July 1983. Photo by Jerry Naunheim Jr.

WOOD RIVER • DNA and fingerprint testing from a 1978 murder case has shed no new light on the crime, but attorneys for the man who has spent more than three decades in prison for the crime say they will appeal on other grounds.

In January 2017, attorneys for John N. Prante sought permission to test DNA of evidence found at the scene of the June 21, 1978, murder of Karla L. Brown, and run a fingerprint found on a coffee carafe that authorities said Prante touched, against various law enforcement databases. They said it could provide “overwhelming evidence of Prante’s innocence,” if they matched someone else. State’s Attorney Tom Gibbons did not object to the request.

Gibbons could not be immediately reached for comment Friday.

Prante attorney Lindsay Hagy, with the Exoneration Project in Chicago, said Friday that the DNA evidence was too degraded to develop a profile, and the fingerprint matched no one. But Hagy said Prante’s attorneys would still file an appeal of his conviction next week, citing the use of the now “completely discredited” bite mark analysis that was used in Prante’s arrest and trial. Hagy said that the forensic dentist that they consulted said that “even in the bite mark field,” it was “the lowest quality of evidence possible. You would not even be able to deem it a bite mark,” she added.

Lawyer Dana Delger said that the Innocence Project is aware of 24 convictions and seven indictments that were overturned due to faulty bite mark analysis.

In 2016, a White House science council concluded that bite mark analysis is “scientifically unreliable at present” and far from meeting “the scientific standards for foundational validity.” They also concluded that examiners “cannot consistently agree on whether an injury is a human bite mark and cannot identify the source of bite mark with reasonable accuracy.”

Hagy also said that the appeal would cite the possible contamination of witness memories in the four years between the murder and Prante’s arrest.

Don Weber, who was state’s attorney at the time, rejected any idea that testing or an appeal would change the appropriate outcome of the case.

“They brought all that stuff up (at trial),” he said. “This wasn’t a bite mark case. This was a case about eyewitnesses — Prante bragged about killing her. Prante bragged about biting her on the neck,” Weber said, adding that Prante also knew details about the crime scene that he should not have known.

“It’s just a waste of everyone’s time.”

Weber reopened the case when be became state’s attorney, and concluded in 1980 that a mark in autopsy photos had probably been caused by a bite. Two experts testified that the bite marks in the photos were consistent with Prante’s teeth, although they didn’t say it was an exact match.

Two defense experts questioned the science behind bite mark analysis and said it wasn’t clear that it was a bite at all, and insisted that meaningful comparisons with people’s teeth were impossible.

Weber speculated at the time that Brown spurned a sexual advance from Prante, who was drinking and smoking marijuana at a friend’s house in the 900 block of East Acton Street and may have spotted Brown moving in next door.

Prante, then 28, was an unemployed barge worker and Navy veteran with no significant criminal record. Brown, a student at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, was engaged to be married.

The case has drawn national TV attention. Weber co-authored a book on the case.

The appeal may ultimately have no effect on Prante’s time behind bars. Weber said that any reversal of Prante’s conviction would itself probably be appealed and could take years to resolve.

Prante, now 69, who was convicted and sentenced to 75 years in prison in 1983, is scheduled to be paroled on Dec. 9, 2019.

This article originally ran on

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