Texas Panel Calls for an End to Criminal IDs via Bite Mark
An influential scientific commission in Texas called Friday for a halt in the use of bite-mark identifications in criminal trials, concluding that the validity of the technique has not been scientifically established.Issued by the Texas Forensic Science Commission after a six-month investigation, the recommendation is the first from any official state or federal body to call for excluding bite-mark testimony, in which dental experts claim to identify the person whose teeth caused wounds on a victim. It is not legally binding but is likely to carry great weight, in Texas and elsewhere, providing guidance to trial judges as they decide whether to permit bite-mark testimony and a strong weapon for defense lawyers if prosecutors do try to use it.
“We concluded that bite marks should not be admitted in criminal cases at this point,” Vincent Di Maio, a former medical examiner and chairman of the commission, said in a telephone interview. “We feel it does not meet the standards of forensic science.”
The commission has also started sorting through decades of trial records to identify past cases that should be reopened because they depended heavily on now-discredited bite comparisons. Dr. Di Maio said it has identified 35 convictions so far that involved such testimony, but had not yet determined those in which it played a critical role.
When appropriate, he said, the commission would notify the convicts and defense lawyers, who could decide whether to pursue new trials or exonerations.
The commission was formed by the Texas Legislature in 2005 to investigate possible misuses of forensic evidence. Its conclusions on bite marks will be presented to the attorney general in a written report.
Legal experts say the strong criticism of bite-mark analysis, coming from a respected and non-ideological group, is likely to affect criminal trials across the country as they consider a method that was already falling into disfavor.
Three cheers for Texas!! This is huge. I can only hope that other states will ban such pseudoscience from our courtrooms.