Bite Mark ID Leads to Wrongful Conviction

Bite mark identification evidence is "sham science and glorified guesswork."

Critics say human skin changes and distorts imprints until they are nearly unrecognizable. ... Since 2000, at least eight people in five states who were convicted largely on bite-mark identification have been exonerated, according to the Innocence Project.

In the case of Robert Lee Stinson, "two forensic odontologists testified that Stinson's teeth were a match [with bite marks on the homicide victim's body], even though Stinson was apparently missing a tooth in a place where the bite marks indicated a tooth." Nonetheless, Stinson would likely not have been freed from his life sentence (imposed in 1985) if not for new DNA evidence. DNA on the victim's sweater didn't match Stinson's.

Stinson has been awarded a new trial, although there's some likelihood that the case will be dismissed. Kudos to the Wisconsin Innocence Project for its diligent work on Stinson's behalf.

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    interestingly, (none / 0) (#1)
    by cpinva on Sun Feb 01, 2009 at 04:19:48 AM EST
    tv shows, like csi and L & O, are still using bite mark ID as a critical means of identifying the perpetrators of their tv crimes.

    having read here, and following the links, previously, of the fallacy behind bite mark ID, i was kind of surprised to see this still being given "credence" on shows such as the above noted. unfortunately, many people watching those shows tend to take them as more than just made up, and that's who makes up jury pools.

    Yikes (none / 0) (#2)
    by Militarytracy on Sun Feb 01, 2009 at 08:58:55 AM EST
    Everybody living here watches CSI and loves it.  What sort of fallacies are we creating within our social awareness though?

    Sham interpretation (none / 0) (#3)
    by Lora on Sun Feb 01, 2009 at 10:52:07 AM EST
    In this case, it seems as though the bite-mark science was not necessarily erroneous, but the interpretation of it was mistaken, false, or just plain contrived:

    emphasis mine)

    In the case of Robert Lee Stinson, "two forensic odontologists testified that Stinson's teeth were a match [with bite marks on the homicide victim's body], even though Stinson was apparently missing a tooth in a place where the bite marks indicated a tooth."

    The bite marks indicated a tooth.  Stinson didn't have a tooth.  Stinson wasn't guilty.

    Bite mark science per se may not have been at fault here, but if the forensic odontologists saw no tooth where there was in fact a tooth, perhaps they were incompetent, or bought off, no?

    Science? (5.00 / 1) (#4)
    by TChris on Sun Feb 01, 2009 at 01:06:19 PM EST
    What kind of "science" produces a 63 percent rate of false identifications?

    This case was not about the science (none / 0) (#5)
    by Lora on Sun Feb 01, 2009 at 01:29:24 PM EST
    Just sayin',

    In this case, ignoring a tooth impression in a bite mark isn't about whether or not the science is bad.  The "science" revealed evidence of a certain tooth mark.  That evidence was ignored and an individual with no tooth to fit the tooth mark was punished.  That's bad law, not bad science.


    No (none / 0) (#6)
    by squeaky on Sun Feb 01, 2009 at 01:52:28 PM EST
    The only thing that makes it evidence is that it is backed by science, bad science. IOW science legitimizes bite mark ID evidence.

    And at 63% false ID rate, it seems that this science is bad science.


    No (none / 0) (#7)
    by Lora on Sun Feb 01, 2009 at 03:07:14 PM EST
    The evidence was backed by bad scientists, not bad science, IN THIS CASE.

    IN THIS CASE, the science showed an impression of a tooth, and the suspect had no tooth.  Therefore, the science actually provided evidence that would have exonerated him, if anyone had been paying attention.


    Bad Science (none / 0) (#8)
    by squeaky on Sun Feb 01, 2009 at 03:09:55 PM EST
    Can only be done by bad scientists, not sure how you can make a distinction.

    Bad police work is not done by anyone other than bad police.


    Science is science (none / 0) (#9)
    by Lora on Sun Feb 01, 2009 at 03:19:19 PM EST
    Science is neither good nor bad.  I

    n this case, the evidence showed that the bite was made by someone with a tooth in a place that the suspect had no tooth.  The suspect should have been exonerated right there if it could be shown that he had no tooth in that spot at the time of the attack.  There is nothing wrong with that particular piece of science.

    What is wrong is for the experts to insist it was his bite mark when it couldn't have been his bite mark because he was missing a tooth.  That's bad scientists, and bad administration of justice, not bad science.

    I am not defending this particular branch of forensic science.  I merely point out that this particular case does not either support it nor count against it.  The science part did not convict an innocent man; in fact it provided evidence which should have helped exonerate him.


    Really? (none / 0) (#10)
    by squeaky on Sun Feb 01, 2009 at 03:30:36 PM EST
    When a so called science is used and it has a 63% fail rate that is bad science. Phrenology is bad science but was quite popular at one time.

    Really. (none / 0) (#11)
    by Lora on Sun Feb 01, 2009 at 06:24:51 PM EST
    I know nothing about bite-mark science.  I neither defend nor speak against it.

    As I understand from reading this post, the actual bite mark analysis showed evidence that Roy Brown was innocent, in that the bite mark actually did not match his teeth.  However, the experts insisted that it did.

    I think there was either incompetence or dirty pool, from what was posted.

    From the NYT article (emphasis mine):

     At the time of his conviction, Mr. Brown, 46, was missing two front teeth. The bite marks, meanwhile, had six tooth imprints.
    The prosecution's expert testified that Mr. Brown could have twisted the victim's skin to fill the gaps his missing teeth would have left on the bite mark. Despite rebuttal from the defense, whose expert said the bite marks excluded Mr. Brown, it took jurors five hours to return a guilty verdict.

    I have no argument with this quote:

    "If you say that this bite fits this person and nobody else in the world, and if you use the bite mark as the only piece of physical evidence linking an attacker to his victim, that's not science -- that's junk," said Dr. Richard Souviron, chief forensic odontologist at the Miami-Dade Medical Examiner's Office.

    There is a scientifically accepted use:

    Bite marks, however, can be helpful in excluding someone as a suspect, or determining that the suspect could be the one who inflicted the bite, many experts and defense lawyers agree.

    "If you limit bite-mark analysis to its accepted validity, it's not inappropriate for an expert to say that a certain suspect is not the biter," said Christopher Plourd, a lawyer in San Diego who has represented several suspects whose trials revolved around bite-mark evidence. "But that's as far as you should go."

    Good Riddance to Bad Rubbish (none / 0) (#12)
    by Dead Kennedy on Sun Feb 01, 2009 at 07:41:47 PM EST
    My Police Forensics professor was a Physical Anthropologist by training, and we spent perhaps 15 minutes discussing bite marks, which amount to 15 minutes of him finding new ways of saying "This is junk science."

    Bite marks are useful for identifying the species of biter, and perhaps the general age and jaw size, but unless the teeth penetrate to the bone and leave marks there, it's ridiculous to try to identify an individual by soft tissue tearing.