Bite-Mark Testimony Under Fire: Commission Recommends Ban on its Use
In criminal proceedings, there are different types of evidence that may be admitted for the consideration of the jury to determine whether or not a criminal defendant is innocent or guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. This type of evidence can be based on testimony of witnesses, video and image data, and forensic evidence such as DNA or bite-mark testimony.
The Traditional Use of Bite-Mark evidence
Bite-mark evidence has traditionally been admissible in trial, with expert witnesses brought in testify to whether or not marks or lacerations made by teeth on the victim were made by the criminal defendant. Forensic odontologists are experts who are able to testify, based on the marks, how closely related the marks look to the actual teeth that the criminal defendant has based on the teeth pattern in the marking. The teeth pattern on the victim is then compared to a mould of the criminal defendant’s teeth to show whether or not the two match. If there is a match, then the criminal defendant will be established as the source of the marks.
The Role of Forensic Odontologists
There have been many cases that have relied heavily on these forensic odontologists and their expert assessment of bite marks. So far, according to an article published by the BBC News, there have been thousands of cases that have convicted defendants based on this bite-mark testimony, and at least 24 of these cases where it was later established that the bite-mark testimony was false.
Bite-Mark Testimony Ban Recommended by the Forensic Science Community
Bite-mark testimony has come under fire from the forensic science community, especially in Texas, after the Texas Forensic Science Commission performed a six-month investigation that concluded that the method of applying bite-mark testimony does not meet forensic science standards. The Texas Commission’s study further revealed that the wound patterns made by the same set of teeth may actually look significantly different, as well as change their shape over time because of the malleability of human skin. Significantly, in one of the tests performed by the Commission, forensic dentists were unable to agree on whether one of the bites that they were analyzing even came from a human at all. Another study published by the American Board of Forensic Odontology established that some experienced practitioners were not even certain that the marks depicted were even bite-marks at all. Testimony presented by a dental-school professor at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio to the Texas Commission demonstrated that at least 85-95 percent of the injuries that he assesses lack the requisite amount of detail to be able to make a positive comparison to a criminal defendant’s teeth.
The Texas Commission recommended a ban on bite-mark testimony until credible research supports a new method by which forensic dentists can accurately determine bite marks and their source.
The Widespread Implications of this Ban around the United States
Though Texas is the first state to recommend the ban on all bite-mark testimony, there are other states that are starting to doubt the credibility of dental forensic specialists and the weight that should be given to such testimony. Though the Texas Commission can only recommend the course of action that the courts should take with regards to bite-mark testimony, this will most likely become a widely-held view by judges throughout the United States until further research can convince otherwise. It may only be a matter of time before Florida follows the recommendation and also applies a statewide ban on the use of bite-mark testimony.
Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney in Fort Lauderdale
If you or a loved one has been arrested for a committing a crime, it is important to speak with an experienced defense attorney like Kevin J. Kulik who can guide you through the criminal justice system. Contact Kevin J. Kulik today for a free and confidential consultation in the Fort Lauderdale area.