According to the Washington Post, Texas lawmakers are quickly moving toward an official ban on bite mark evidence in criminal cases. Texas will be the first state to administer a ban on bite mark evidence, which may influence other U.S. states to take similar action.
Why Might Bite Mark Evidence Be Banned?
The Texas Forensic Science Commission has been working on research pertaining to the validity and application of bite mark evidence in criminal cases. Scientific scrutiny is continuing to put holes in theories about the usefulness of bite marks as evidence of criminal or violent activity.
The Commission has continually proved that teeth cannot be matched to human skin due to several factors:
The elasticity of human skin creates a margin of error that is too great
Especially in violent crime cases, damage to human tissue due to bites is too extensive
Dentition can be modified to negate the validity of evidence
Additionally, an extraordinary number of convicted criminals are successfully appealing their rulings by shedding light on inconclusive bite mark evidence. In the last 15 years, at least 24 prisoners charged with murder or rape have been exonerated upon appeal. The number is expected to rise should the ban be approved.
How Is Bite Mark Evidence Collected?
The process of collecting and using bite mark evidence requires a considerably intact sample of a bite from the body of the victim. Forensic investigators then take three steps:
Photography – Investigators take photos from different angles to try to get a full three-dimensional view of the bite. Once the angle of the bite is determined, additional photos are taken from the alleged angle of the bite. Photos are well-lit and include references such as rulers to determine size with as much precision as possible.
Bite Impression – From the photos, forensic specialists create a mold of what they believe the jaws and teeth of the perpetrator look like. The mold is only an approximation of the offender’s dentition and helps compare the leftover marks with dental records of a criminal case’s prime suspects.
Suspect Dental Impression – The case’s suspects undergo dental molding following the creation of the bite impression. A series of photos is taken of the suspect’s jaw and teeth to craft a precise mold for use as evidence in court.
Though the entire process is highly technical, skeptics of bite mark evidence argue that no level of precision is conclusive enough to be considered seriously by a jury. Texas lawmakers have begun to adopt the same opinion, and those following the proposition to ban bite mark evidence foresee a ban across the nation.
What Does the Ban Mean for the Justice System?
For the Texas judicial system, the ban could cut down on the appeals process and reduce the number of wrongful convictions. Judgments made without hard evidence provide an avenue for the accused to bottleneck the justice system with continual appeals.
Should the ban come into effect nationwide, courtrooms may see a more regimented approach to criminal investigation that opens new doors to undeniably conclusive evidence. Reduced appeals should mean courts will have more time and money to apply to thoroughly investigated appeals that produce fair and lasting results.