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Agencies: Bite-mark Forensics Outdated Science

by Kevin Bliss

Critics contend that bite-mark evidence is an inconclusive forensic science and should be supported by other evidence when used in the prosecution of a defendant for any crime. To date, there have been 31 exonerations from re-examination of cases dependent on bite-mark comparison, according to forensicmag.com.

The first case to use bite-mark comparison occurred in 1974 when Walter Edgar Marx was accused of the rape and murder of an elderly woman in her California home. Marx allegedly bit the woman’s nose during the incident. The analysis, though, was not carried out until two months after the woman was buried, and her body had to be exhumed to carry out the comparison. Yet this evidence convicted Marx.

Since then, several studies have been completed on the accuracy of bite-mark forensics. Both the National Academy of Sciences and the Texas Forensic Science Commission have condemned the reliability of bite-mark comparison. 

They concluded that human skin is too malleable to properly hold bite-mark patterns. C. Michael Bowers of the Ostrow School of Dentistry wrote, “Even if ‘blinded’ evidence analyses were made mandatory, the lack of established inclusion/exclusion criteria for bitemark comparisons along with the physical vagaries of skin are permanent obstacles for success.… Hundreds of cases of bitemark identification used personal confidence as a substitute for empirical data and acceptable statistical testing. This terminology describing confidence is now not supported within the scientific professions and are unacceptable in today’s courts.”

Bowers said bite-mark comparison is as outdated a forensic science as phrenology, footwear comparison, hypnosis-aided testimony, bullet-lead comparison, and hair comparison analyses and needs to be discarded as a forensic science. 

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Source: forensicmag.com, Journal of Forensic and Legal Science

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