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Are bite marks conclusive forensic evidence in some felonies?

In the past, cases involving certain crimes relied on bite marks, which supposedly identified the culprit. Many people here in Louisiana and across the country could be sitting in prison right now after convictions for felonies based on bite mark evidence. The problem is that forensic experts have serious doubts about the validity of using this type of evidence.

Evidence of bite marks became popular during the 1978 trial of infamous serial killer Ted Bundy. It was used again in the 1982 trial of a man convicted of rape and murder. However, after spending 33 years in prison, it was discovered through DNA evidence that he was innocent. The theory behind bite-mark evidence was that everyone's teeth are unique and that uniqueness is identifiable on human flesh.

After years of research, the Academy of Forensic Odontology no longer supports the use of bite marks for identification purposes. In fact, it is now considered unreliable in cases where the bite mark is in human flesh. In addition to the research that makes this type of evidence invalid, numerous people whose cases involved bite-mark evidence were exonerated by DNA evidence. Regardless, prosecutors in two current capital murder cases, one here in Louisiana and one in Pennsylvania, propose to use bite marks as a way to identify the accused individuals as the perpetrators.

Criminal defense attorneys have disputed the use of bite marks as evidence for some time now -- especially in cases where the felonies carry significant penalties. Keeping up on the latest forensic research is essential for a criminal defense attorney since every accused individual has the right to challenge any evidence prosecutors intend to present to the court. Perhaps the courts will catch up with the science at some point and disallow any kind of evidence that is not supported by forensic experts.

Source: richmond.com, "Bite mark analysis, other forensic techniques under review", Frank Green, Feb. 18, 2017

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