Bite Mark Evidence May Soon Be Kicked Out of Court

New court case may end controversial method for good

By Newser Editors and Wire Services

Posted Jun 16, 2013 2:40 PM CDT

(Newser) – At least 24 men convicted or charged with murder or rape based on bite marks on the flesh of victims have been exonerated since 2000, many after spending more than a decade in prison. Now a judge's ruling later this month in New York could help end the practice for good. A small, mostly ungoverned group of dentists carry out bite mark analysis and their findings are often key evidence in prosecutions, even though there is no scientific proof that teeth can be matched definitively to a bite into human skin. DNA has outstripped the usefulness of bite mark analysis in many cases: The FBI doesn't use it and the American Dental Association does not recognize it.

Two court cases this month are helping to bring the debate over the issue to a head. One involves a 63-year-old California man who is serving a life term for killing his wife, even though the forensic dentist who testified against him has reversed his opinion. In the second, a New York City judge overseeing a murder case is expected to decide whether bite mark analysis can be admitted as evidence—a ruling critics say could kick it out of courtrooms for good. "Bite mark evidence is the poster child of unreliable forensic science," says the director of the Innocence Project, which helps wrongfully convicted inmates win freedom through DNA testing. "It's very inflammatory. What could be more grotesque than biting someone amid a murder or a rape hard enough to leave an injury? It's highly prejudicial, and its probative value is completely unknown."

Dr. Frank Wright, a forensic dentist, studying evidence in a bite mark analysis, which he practices on a regular basis in between seeing patients, is photographed at his office in Cincinnati.
Dr. Frank Wright, a forensic dentist, studying evidence in a bite mark analysis, which he practices on a regular basis in between seeing patients, is photographed at his office in Cincinnati.   (Al Behrman)
In this Thursday, March 28, 2013, photo, Dr. Frank Wright, a forensic dentist, studying evidence in a bite mark analysis, which he practices on a regular basis in between seeing patients, is photographed at his office in Cincinnati.
In this Thursday, March 28, 2013, photo, Dr. Frank Wright, a forensic dentist, studying evidence in a bite mark analysis, which he practices on a regular basis in between seeing patients, is photographed...   (Al Behrman)
FILE-In this Friday, Feb. 15, 2008 file photo shows Levon Brooks, left, huging a friend, moments after a circuit court judge released him pending a new trial for the murder of a child in Macon, Miss. Brooks was convicted in 1992 of raping and killing his ex-girlfriend's 3-year-old daughter and...
FILE-In this Friday, Feb. 15, 2008 file photo shows Levon Brooks, left, huging a friend, moments after a circuit court judge released him pending a new trial for the murder of a child in Macon, Miss....   (Rogelio V. Solis)
FILE-In this Wednesday, April 10, 2002 file photo Ray Krone, center, smiles at his mother Carolyn, right and stepfather, Jim Leming, after they drove from Dover, Pa., to Phoenix, to see Krone following his release from Arizona's Florence Prison.  Since 2000, at least 18 men convicted in rapes and murders...
FILE-In this Wednesday, April 10, 2002 file photo Ray Krone, center, smiles at his mother Carolyn, right and stepfather, Jim Leming, after they drove from Dover, Pa., to Phoenix, to see Krone following...   (Darryl Webb)
FILE- This Thursday, March 28, 2013, file photo, shows an overlay of a bite mark placed on top of a photograph of a bite mark victim to see if the bite could have been made by the person in the bite mark overlay, in Cincinnati.  Since 2000, at least 18...
FILE- This Thursday, March 28, 2013, file photo, shows an overlay of a bite mark placed on top of a photograph of a bite mark victim to see if the bite could have been made by the person in the bite mark...   (Al Behrman)
This  July 18, 1979, photo,  shows forensic odontologist Dr. Richard Souviron pointing to a blown-up photograph of accused murderer Theodore Bundy's teeth during Bundy's murder trial in Miami, Fla. Souviron, one of the prosecution's key witnesses, showed the jury that only Bundy's teeth could have made the bite marks discovered...
This July 18, 1979, photo, shows forensic odontologist Dr. Richard Souviron pointing to a blown-up photograph of accused murderer Theodore Bundy's teeth during Bundy's murder trial in Miami, Fla. Souviron,...   (Uncredited)
FILE- A Jan. 1999 file photo shows Edmund Burke, of Walpole, Mass., a former suspect in the killing of 75-year-old Irene Kennedy, at his attorney's office in Boston, Mass. was arrested in 1998 in the murder of 75-year-old Walpole, Mass., woman and spent 41 days in prison. The woman's actual...
FILE- A Jan. 1999 file photo shows Edmund Burke, of Walpole, Mass., a former suspect in the killing of 75-year-old Irene Kennedy, at his attorney's office in Boston, Mass. was arrested in 1998 in the...   (Gail Oskin)
FILE-A Monday, March 5, 2007 file photo shows Roy Brown, center, walking out of court a free man with his lawyers Nina Morrison, right, and Peter Neufeld in Auburn, N.Y.  Brown was convicted in 1991 of an upstate New York woman's murder.  In January 2007, further DNA testing and...
FILE-A Monday, March 5, 2007 file photo shows Roy Brown, center, walking out of court a free man with his lawyers Nina Morrison, right, and Peter Neufeld in Auburn, N.Y. Brown was convicted in 1991 of...   (Kevin Rivoli)
FILE - In an Oct. 3, 1978 file photo Theodore Bundy smiles at photographers in Tallahassee, Fla.,  A bite mark analysis done by Dr. Richard Souviron helped convict Bundy in the murders of two Florida State University coeds.
FILE - In an Oct. 3, 1978 file photo Theodore Bundy smiles at photographers in Tallahassee, Fla., A bite mark analysis done by Dr. Richard Souviron helped convict Bundy in the murders of two Florida...   (Anonymous)
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