, Muskogee, OK

June 22, 2013

Bite marks can’t pass the test

— Science is about fact — not fiction.

It is also about proving or disproving a hypothesis.

That’s at the heart of a judge’s pending ruling regarding the validity of bite mark evidence in criminal cases.

The New York judge’s ruling, expected later this month, could end the practice of using bite mark evidence in court for good.

Bite mark evidence has been accepted in court rooms for decades.

It helped convict serial killer Ted Bundy.

However, at least 24 men convicted or charged with murder or rape based on bite marks on the flesh of victims have been exonerated since 2000. Many of those men spent more than a decade in prison.

Forensic science has come a long way.

Criminals used to be convicted on nothing more than a person’s recollection.

Then ballistic and fingerprint evidence became accepted for courtroom use.

Polygraph, or lie detectors, can’t be used in a court because they are considered unreliable.

Each one of those breakthroughs had to be tested and retested to determine its validity.

Ballistics and fingerprinting passed the tests.

Polygraphs did not.

That’s the unfortunate part of bite mark evidence.

There are way too many people who spent at least one day in jail because they apparently were convicted on questionable science.

It took too long to determine that it is not exact science.

And too many people paid the price for that delay.

Forensic science must keep evolving in order to ensure better justice in the future.

But it also should move at a snail’s pace to ensure justice for the innocent.