“Snaggletooth killer” was a name used to refer to Ray Krone, who was convicted in 1991 for murdering a waitress. The waitress worked at the Phoenix cocktail. Krone was sentenced to death after the bite marks taken from the breast of the victim were said to match Krone’s dentition through the confirmation of the state’s forensic odontologist. However, Krone was exonerated in 2002, after the DNA evidence failed to match Krone’s DNA. In the case of Otero v. Warnick, the dentist, in his testimony, said that the plaintiff was the only one in the world capable of making such bite marks as found on the body of the victim. However, the rectal and vaginal swab tests released in 1995 by the crime laboratory of the state of Detroit showed otherwise. Such differences between the DNA report retrieved and the bite marks were found in the case of Burke v. Town, amongst other cases. A similar shadow of doubt occurred in the 2007 appellate case of People v. Lavelle Davis on the issue of lip print “match”. The main issue, therefore, revolved around whether bite marks evidence should be accepted as key evidence in murder, rape, assault, and other criminal cases.
The bite mark evidence emerged from the theory assuming that the human dentition is unique to an individual. Through this conception, forensic experts have used the dentition to identify a victim. Since this approach has been greatly effective, various forensic experts have a consequent approach of identifying a perpetrator through the dental imprints on an object or human skin. This approach of submitting dental impressions on objects or human skin as evidence in order to identify the criminal has been used for more than fifty years. The Doyle v. State case of 1954 was one of the first cases, where the conviction occurred due to the evidence-based on the dental marks found on a piece of cheese found on the crime scene. This was in Texas. The defendant was asked to make a similar bite on a piece of cheese. A dentist and a firearms examiner made diverse examinations separately and came up with the conclusion that the two pieces of cheese were bitten by the same set of teeth. The set of teeth matched that of the defendant. This case became a reference point for other similar cases.
As indicated earlier, many cases have proved that DNA can differ from the conclusion made from assessing and analyzing bite marks. This is also mentioned by Bowers (2006). Many experts state that it would be better if the saliva around the bite mark would accompany the bite mark evidence. The DNA from the saliva portrays a more affirmed statement of the bite mark identified. Erden and Colon (2013) state a number of things that a dentist or forensic odontologist should consider when examining bite or dental marks. There should be great differentiation between human bites and other bites made from animals. Similarly, some injuries from objects may resemble bite marks; hence, there is a need for intense scrutiny.
The effects relating to natural wear, dental diseases, and treatments are capable of making a person’s dentition unique, as assumed by the experts. Erdman and Colon (2013) put a survey indicating that 91% of the participants believed in the uniqueness of the human dentition, and 78% believed in the exact replication of the same on human skin. As indicated earlier, the main argument lies in whether the exact dental arrangement and appearance can be replicated in human skin or object. Various experts argue that the natural inherent characteristics of the human skin or other objects may distort the appearance of the bite mark. For example, the skin is elastic; hence, it is prone to stretches. Similarly, it is questionable whether the dentition mark appearing on a piece of cheese may be similar to the one appearing on bacon, bread, or any other food morsel.
Two commentators provide some reasons that give reasonable doubt as to the use of bite marks as key evidence. One commentator said that “there is effectively no valid documented specific data to support the hypothesis that bite marks are demonstrably unique”. Additionally, no one has produced any data to prove that a bite mark, like a fingerprint, presents an accurate and true reflection of the same. On the contrary, the scientifically proven evidence shows that bite marks emerging due to the criminal activity are highly inaccurate and distorted; hence, proving to be unreliable as evidence.
Bite marks fail to accurately present the dental features of the owner due to the various reasons. First, these marks are usually from a limited number of teeth. They are mainly marks from four to eight teeth. Limited teeth fail to bring the full uniqueness of the set of teeth in question. Similarly, the only parts used to bite are the teeth edges and not the five anatomic surfaces. Due to this occurrence, it is not only relevant to know that the dentition will be replicated on the examined area, but whether sufficient bite marks are present in the same area. Secondly, the marks are made on the materials that are prone to distortion due to shrinkage, expansion, or otherwise. Additionally, the bite marks represent the only and remaining feature of the initial action. The mechanisms leading to this outcome may differ. For example, no one has released conclusive evidence identifying between dental marks made, when one bites a food, and when the same person uses his/her teeth to defend or attack.
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Although the bite mark evidence continues to be used in courts, various challenges were evidenced as recent as 2010. First, the new forensic odontologists continue to have little or no experience in analyzing bite marks. When such inexperience is taken to the court, the inconclusive testimony given leads to more future exoneration cases. Secondly, there is no law or policy requiring the party giving the bite mark evidence (mainly the prosecution) to produce opinions from second or third parties on the same. Third, proficiency testing for forensic odontologists, who have certificates, is not mandatory. This continues to pave reasonable doubt in the evidence produced by the legal parties in relation to the prevailing cases. This raises more concern, especially if it is the only key evidence being submitted.
The NAS report raises a few issues questioning the stability or concreteness of bite marks as evidence. The first issue raised, as constantly indicated, relates to the unpublished scientific evidence of the uniqueness of human dentition. Another issue raised has also been mentioned. It relates to the presence of an exact unique replica of the dentition, if at all unique. NAS also criticizes the forensic experts’ ability to analyze and realize the exact distortion that had been made on the areas examined. Additionally, the distortion’s effect cannot be quantified, as its impact on the diverse comparison techniques has not been comprehended fully. Furthermore, no quantity of individual characteristics, quality, and type are required to be present for a bite mark to be categorized as valuable evidentiary.
Expanding more on bite mark analysis, Giannelli (2007) mentions the three steps involved. They include registering the bite mark and dentition of the suspect, comparing the bite mark and dentition, and evaluating the similarities or dissimilarities evident. This analysis is mainly used for elimination or affirmation/confirmation purposes. Unlike fingerprints, bite marks are not used to find the criminal. They are used to confirm that the suspect’s dentition matches the bite marks or it does not. This is another reason that raises concern, as to whether bite marks should be used as key evidence. The odontologist usually has limited sets of teeth or dental impressions. It becomes easier to identify whether the bite marks match the set of teeth at the display. Whereas fingerprints are matched to a big database, the bite marks are compared to the limited features; hence, it becomes easier to link given bite marks to a set of displayed teeth. Bowers (2006) states that identifying the bite marks to a suspect’s dentition takes place as when the suspect identification occurs through the lineup. The dental impressions taken as evidence are compared to the suspect’s dentition. Therefore, he/she will be confirmed or eliminated.
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The issue of the subjectivity or objectivity of the findings has intrigued various debates as Giannelli (2007) continues to state. The experts make their conclusions from the objective data. However, they make a subjective opinion. There are no rules stating the minimum points needed for an expert to state that he/she has a positive identification. Bowers (2006) indicates that the points made by the experts in the previous cases have moved from a low of eight points to a high of fifty-two. The conclusions made are mainly dependent on the expertise acquired by the expert/examiner. As stated, the forensic experts currently do not have the needed or satisfactory experience to make such conclusions. Due to such occurrences, skepticism easily penetrates these discussions.
Personnel in the legal unit have raised these issues through arguments made in court. Since such arguments are common in this environment, the practice that has reigned in court for over half a century always win, as the other party’s arguments are seen as the “usual” way of conducting business. No legal actions have been taken to stop or challenge the admission of bite marks as concrete forensic evidence. Unfortunately, apart from the numerous articles and publications are written to challenge the same, there are no evident plans for tackling this issue in the nearest future.
In many cases, experts have diverged in assessments and conclusions from the same bite mark analysis. These differences have raised concern on the scientific objectivity and value of this form of evidence. Entities should understand that evidence is used to form an individual’s predicament. It is used to form the freedom or sentencing of an individual. Rules, regulations, and policies should, therefore, be put in place in order to affirm its concreteness. If at all it is to be submitted as reliable evidence, the certain rules should be set in order to indicate the points to be used to show that the bite marks match the suspect’s dentition.
The argument challenging the admission of bite mark evidence as enough evidence to make a conviction continues. As some experts prove its accuracy, other experts argue against it. The legal counsel on the prosecution side is usually in favor of this evidence, as it places it at an advantage. On the other hand, the legal counsel on the defendant’s bench is constantly in being against it, as it serves in their disfavor. Experts should find concrete scientific evidence to approve or disapprove it. Otherwise, it will continue to be submitted in the courts of the United States and the world with the accompaniment of arguments that slow down the justice process.
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