CrimProf Blog

Editor: Kevin Cole
Univ. of San Diego School of Law

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Saks et al. on Bitemark Identification

Michael J. SaksThomas AlbrightBarbara E. BiererThomas L. BohanC. Michael BowersMary A. BushPeter J. BushArturo CasadevallSimon A. ColeM. Bonner DentonShari Seidman DiamondRachel Dioso-VillaJules EpsteinDavid L. FaigmanLisa Snyder FaigmanStephen E FienbergBrandon L. GarrettPaul C. GiannelliHenry T. GreelyEdward J. ImwinkelriedAllan JamiesonKaren KafadarJerome P. KassirerJonathan J. KoehlerDavid KornJennifer MnookinAlan B. MorrisonErin MurphyNizam PeerwaniJoseph L. PetersonD. Michael RisingerGeorge SensabaughCliff SpiegelmanHal S. SternWilliam C. ThompsonJames L. WaymanSandy Zabell and Ross E. Zumwalt (Arizona State University (ASU) - Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law, Salk Institute for Biological Studies, Harvard Medical School, Forensic Specialties Accreditation Board, Private Practice of Dentistry, State University of New York at Buffalo, State University of New York (SUNY), Johns Hopkins University - School of Hygiene and Public Health, University of California, Irvine - Department of Criminology, Law and Society, University of Arizona, Northwestern University, School of Law & American Bar Foundation, Griffith University - School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, Temple University - James E. Beasley School of Law, University of California Hastings College of the Law, University of California Hastings College of the Law, Carnegie Mellon University - H. John Heinz III School of Public Policy and Management, University of Virginia School of Law, Case Western Reserve University School of Law, Stanford Law School, University of California, Davis - School of Law, The Forensic Institute, University of Virginia, Tufts University, Northwestern University - Pritzker School of Law, Harvard Medical School, University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) - School of Law, George Washington University - Law School, New York University School of Law, Office of the Medical Examiner, Tarrant County, TX, California State University, Los Angeles, Seton Hall University School of Law, University of California, Berkeley - School of Public Health, Texas A&M University, University of California, Irvine - Department of Statistics, University of California, Irvine - Department of Criminology, Law and Society, San Jose State University, Northwestern University and University of New Mexico) have posted Forensic Bitemark Identification: Weak Foundations, Exaggerated Claims (Journal of Law and the Biosciences, Vol. 3, No. 3, 538-575) on SSRN. Here is the abstract:
Several forensic sciences, especially of the pattern-matching kind, are increasingly seen to lack the scientific foundation needed to justify continuing admission as trial evidence. Indeed, several have been abolished in the recent past. A likely next candidate for elimination is bitemark identification. A number of DNA exonerations have occurred in recent years for individuals convicted based on erroneous bitemark identifications. Intense scientific and legal scrutiny has resulted. An important National Academies review found little scientific support for the field.
The Texas Forensic Science Commission recently recommended a moratorium on the admission of bitemark expert testimony.The California Supreme Court has a case before it that could start a national dismantling of forensic odontology. This article describes the (legal) basis for the rise of bitemark identification and the (scientific) basis for its impending fall. The article explains the general logic of forensic identification, the claims of bitemark identification, and reviews relevant empirical research on bitemark identification—highlighting both the lack of research and the lack of support provided by what research does exist. The rise and possible fall of bitemark identification evidence has broader implications—highlighting the weak scientific culture of forensic science and the law’s difficulty in evaluating and responding to unreliable and unscientific evidence.

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