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Forensic Bitemark Identification: Weak Foundations, Exaggerated Claims

Journal of Law and the Biosciences, Vol. 3, No. 3, 538-575

38 Pages Posted: 5 Sep 2017  

Michael J. Saks

Arizona State University (ASU) - Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law

Thomas Albright

Salk Institute for Biological Studies

Barbara E. Bierer

Harvard Medical School

Thomas L. Bohan

Forensic Specialties Accreditation Board

C. Michael Bowers

Private Practice of Dentistry

Mary A. Bush

State University of New York at Buffalo

Peter J. Bush

State University of New York (SUNY)

Arturo Casadevall

Johns Hopkins University - School of Hygiene and Public Health

Simon A. Cole

University of California, Irvine - Department of Criminology, Law and Society

M. Bonner Denton

University of Arizona

Shari Seidman Diamond

Northwestern University, School of Law & American Bar Foundation

Rachel Dioso-Villa

Griffith University - School of Criminology and Criminal Justice

Jules Epstein

Temple University - James E. Beasley School of Law

David L. Faigman

University of California Hastings College of the Law

Lisa Snyder Faigman

University of California Hastings College of the Law

Stephen E Fienberg

Carnegie Mellon University - H. John Heinz III School of Public Policy and Management

Brandon L. Garrett

University of Virginia School of Law

Paul C. Giannelli

Case Western Reserve University School of Law

Henry T. Greely

Stanford Law School

Edward J. Imwinkelried

University of California, Davis - School of Law

Allan Jamieson

The Forensic Institute

Karen Kafadar

University of Virginia

Jerome P. Kassirer

Tufts University

Jonathan J. Koehler

Northwestern University - Pritzker School of Law

David Korn

Harvard Medical School

Jennifer Mnookin

University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) - School of Law

Alan B. Morrison

George Washington University - Law School

Erin Murphy

New York University School of Law

Nizam Peerwani

Office of the Medical Examiner, Tarrant County, TX

Joseph L. Peterson

California State University, Los Angeles

D. Michael Risinger

Seton Hall University School of Law

George Sensabaugh

University of California, Berkeley - School of Public Health

Cliff Spiegelman

Texas A&M University

Hal S. Stern

University of California, Irvine - Department of Statistics

William C. Thompson

University of California, Irvine - Department of Criminology, Law and Society

James L. Wayman

San Jose State University

Sandy Zabell

Northwestern University

Ross E. Zumwalt

University of New Mexico

Date Written: 2016

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.

Keywords: admissibility, bite mark, expert evidence, forensic science

Suggested Citation

Saks, Michael J. and Albright, Thomas and Bierer, Barbara E. and Bohan, Thomas L. and Bowers, C. Michael and Bush, Mary A. and Bush, Peter J. and Casadevall, Arturo and Cole, Simon A. and Denton, M. Bonner and Diamond, Shari Seidman and Dioso-Villa, Rachel and Epstein, Jules and Faigman, David L. and Faigman, Lisa Snyder and Fienberg, Stephen E and Garrett, Brandon L. and Giannelli, Paul C. and Greely, Henry T. and Imwinkelried, Edward J. and Jamieson, Allan and Kafadar, Karen and Kassirer, Jerome P. and Koehler, Jonathan J. and Korn, David and Mnookin, Jennifer and Morrison, Alan B. and Murphy, Erin and Peerwani, Nizam and Peterson, Joseph L. and Risinger, D. Michael and Sensabaugh, George and Spiegelman, Cliff and Stern, Hal S. and Thompson, William C. and Wayman, James L. and Zabell, Sandy and Zumwalt, Ross E., Forensic Bitemark Identification: Weak Foundations, Exaggerated Claims (2016). Journal of Law and the Biosciences, Vol. 3, No. 3, 538-575. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3010827

Michael J. Saks (Contact Author)

Arizona State University (ASU) - Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law ( email )

Box 877906
Tempe, AZ 85287-7906
United States

Thomas Albright

Salk Institute for Biological Studies ( email )

10010 North Torrey Pines Road
La Jolla, CA 92037
United States

Barbara E. Bierer

Harvard Medical School ( email )

250 Longwood Avenue
Boston, MA 02115
United States

Thomas L. Bohan

Forensic Specialties Accreditation Board ( email )

C. Michael Bowers

Private Practice of Dentistry ( email )

United States

Mary A. Bush

State University of New York at Buffalo ( email )

United States

Peter J. Bush

State University of New York (SUNY) ( email )

Vestal Parkway East
Buffalo, NY
United States

Arturo Casadevall

Johns Hopkins University - School of Hygiene and Public Health ( email )

Baltimore, MD 21205
United States

Simon A. Cole

University of California, Irvine - Department of Criminology, Law and Society ( email )

2340 Social Ecology 2, RM
Irvine, CA 92697
949-824-1443 (Phone)
949-824-3001 (Fax)

HOME PAGE: http://www.seweb.uci.edu/faculty/cole/

M. Bonner Denton

University of Arizona ( email )

Tucson, AZ 85721
United States

Shari Seidman Diamond

Northwestern University, School of Law & American Bar Foundation ( email )

375 E. Chicago Ave
Chicago, IL 60611
United States
312-503-2040 (Phone)

Rachel Dioso-Villa

Griffith University - School of Criminology and Criminal Justice ( email )

Australia

Jules Epstein

Temple University - James E. Beasley School of Law ( email )

1719 N. Broad Street
Philadelphia, PA 19122
United States

David L. Faigman

University of California Hastings College of the Law ( email )

200 McAllister Street
San Francisco, CA 94102
United States

Lisa Snyder Faigman

University of California Hastings College of the Law ( email )

200 McAllister Street
San Francisco, CA 94102
United States

Stephen E Fienberg

Carnegie Mellon University - H. John Heinz III School of Public Policy and Management ( email )

Pittsburgh, PA 15213-3890
United States

Brandon L. Garrett

University of Virginia School of Law ( email )

580 Massie Road
Charlottesville, VA 22903
United States

Paul C. Giannelli

Case Western Reserve University School of Law ( email )

11075 East Boulevard
Cleveland, OH 44106-7148
United States
216-368-2098 (Phone)
216-368-2086 (Fax)

Henry (Hank) T. Greely

Stanford Law School ( email )

559 Nathan Abbott Way
Stanford, CA 94305-8610
United States
650-723-2517 (Phone)
650-725-0253 (Fax)

Edward J. Imwinkelried

University of California, Davis - School of Law ( email )

Martin Luther King, Jr. Hall
Davis, CA CA 95616-5201
United States

Allan Jamieson

The Forensic Institute ( email )

Glasgow, Scotland
United Kingdom

Karen Kafadar

University of Virginia ( email )

1400 University Ave
Charlottesville, VA 22903
United States

Jerome P. Kassirer

Tufts University ( email )

Medford, MA 02155
United States

Jonathan J. Koehler

Northwestern University - Pritzker School of Law ( email )

375 E. Chicago Ave
Chicago, IL 60611
United States

David Korn

Harvard Medical School ( email )

250 Longwood Avenue
Boston, MA 02115
United States

Jennifer L. Mnookin

University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) - School of Law ( email )

385 Charles E. Young Dr. East
Room 1242
Los Angeles, CA 90095-1476
United States

Alan B. Morrison

George Washington University - Law School ( email )

2000 H Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20052
United States

Erin Elizabeth Murphy

New York University School of Law ( email )

40 Washington Square South
New York, NY 10012
United States
212-998-6672 (Phone)

Nizam Peerwani

Office of the Medical Examiner, Tarrant County, TX ( email )

200 Feliks Gwozdz Pl
Fort Worth, TX
United States

Joseph L. Peterson

California State University, Los Angeles ( email )

5151 State University Dr
Los Angeles, CA 90032
United States

D. Michael Risinger

Seton Hall University School of Law ( email )

One Newark Center
Newark, NJ 07102-5210
United States
(973) 642-8834 (Phone)

George Sensabaugh

University of California, Berkeley - School of Public Health ( email )

50 University Hall #7360
Berkeley, CA 94720-7360
United States

Clifford H. Spiegelman

Texas A&M University ( email )

Langford Building A
798 Ross St.
College Station, TX 77843-3137
United States
(979) 705-6437 (Phone)

Hal S. Stern

University of California, Irvine - Department of Statistics ( email )

Campus Drive
Irvine, CA 62697-3125
United States

William C. Thompson

University of California, Irvine - Department of Criminology, Law and Society ( email )

Irvine, CA
United States

James L. Wayman

San Jose State University ( email )

San Jose, CA 95192-0066
United States

Sandy Zabell

Northwestern University ( email )

2001 Sheridan Road
Evanston, IL 60208
United States

Ross E. Zumwalt

University of New Mexico ( email )

107 Humanitites Building
Albuquerque, NM 87131-1221
United States

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