Editorials

Bite mark analysis has lost its teeth

THE EDITORIAL BOARD

Lynn Garcia uses a chart as she takes part in a Texas Forensic Science Commission meeting to consider recommendations against using bite mark analysis in criminal cases, Thursday, Feb. 11, 2016, in Austin, Texas. The commission moved forward with the recommendation that bite mark evidence not be used pending further research.
Lynn Garcia uses a chart as she takes part in a Texas Forensic Science Commission meeting to consider recommendations against using bite mark analysis in criminal cases, Thursday, Feb. 11, 2016, in Austin, Texas. The commission moved forward with the recommendation that bite mark evidence not be used pending further research. AP

The Texas Forensic Science Commission has recommended a moratorium on the use of bite mark analysis in criminal trials until the science can be validated.

The recommendation is not legally binding, but it’s likely to be heeded by courts.

The commission will also sort through old cases in which bite mark analysis was used to determine if there were errors.

Bite mark analysis was brought to the commission’s attention after Steven Chaney was exonerated for a 1987 murder.

Although he claimed innocence and had several alibi witnesses, a bite mark on the victim’s arm and two forensic dentists’ testimonies helped convince the jury otherwise.

He served 28 years before being freed last fall.

The Innocence Project submitted a complaint to the commission, which spent six months investigating it with panel of forensic dentists.

The conclusion mirrored a National Research Council 2009 report, which says “no thorough study has been conducted of large populations,” and there’s no “existing scientific basis” on bite mark analysis.

The commission’s sound recommendation will create better conviction integrity in criminal cases — if courts listen.

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