June 17, 2013

Bite-mark evidence derided as unreliable in courts

Critics are questioning its scientific validity and the qualifications of those paid to testify about it.

The Associated Press

(Continued from page 4)

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This April 17, 2013 photo shows dental molds that are part of an experiment showing systematic alteration of tooth position to determine when small differences in tooth arrangement can be recognized in bite marks in skin, at the school in Buffalo, N.Y. Bite marks, long accepted as criminal evidence, now face doubts about reliability. (AP Photo/David Duprey)

Richard Souviron
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Forensic odontologist Dr. Richard Souviron points to a photo of Ted Bundy’s teeth during Bundy’s 1979 murder trial in Miami. Souviron, who is considered the founding father of bite-mark forensics, argues there’s a “real need for bite marks in our criminal justice system.”

The Associated Press

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"If someone's got an unusual set of teeth, like the Bundy case, from the standpoint of throwing it out of court, that's ridiculous," he said. "Every science that I know of has bad individuals. Our science isn't bad. It's the individuals who are the problem."

Many forensic dentists have helped the Innocence Project win exonerations in bite mark cases gone wrong by re-examining evidence and testifying for the wrongfully convicted.

But a once-cooperative relationship has turned adversarial ever since the Innocence Project began trying to get bite mark evidence thrown entirely out of courtrooms, while at the same time using it to help win exonerations.

"They turn a blind eye to the good side of bite mark analysis," Golden told the AP.

One example is a case Wright worked on in 1998. He analyzed the bite marks of the only three people who were in an Ohio home when 17-day-old Legacy Fawcett was found dead in her crib. Of the three, two sets of teeth could not have made the bite marks, Wright testified; only the teeth of the mother's boyfriend could have. The boyfriend was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter and served eight years in prison.

Without the bite mark, Wright said, the wrong person might have been convicted or the man responsible could have gone free, or both.

"Bite mark evidence can be too important not to be useful," Wright said. "You can't just throw it away."


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Ted Bundy



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