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Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward
A standard for the type, quality, and number of individual characteristics required to indicate that a bite mark has reached a threshold of evidentiary value has not been established.
Despite the inherent weaknesses involved in bite mark comparison, it is reasonable to assume that the process can sometimes reliably exclude suspects. Although the methods of collection of bite mark evidence are relatively noncontroversial, there is considerable dispute about the value and reliability of the collected data for interpretation. Some of the key areas of dispute include the accuracy of human skin as a reliable registration material for bite marks, the uniqueness of human dentition, the techniques used for analysis, and the role of examiner bias.130 The ABFO has developed guidelines for the analysis of bite marks in an effort to standardize analysis,131 but there is still no general agreement among practicing forensic odontologists about national or international standards for comparison.
Although the majority of forensic odontologists are satisfied that bite marks can demonstrate sufficient detail for positive identification,132 no scientific studies support this assessment, and no large population studies have been conducted. In numerous instances, experts diverge widely in their evaluations of the same bite mark evidence,133 which has led to questioning of the value and scientific objectivity of such evidence.
Bite mark testimony has been criticized basically on the same grounds as testimony by questioned document examiners and microscopic hair examiners. The committee received no evidence of an existing scientific basis for identifying an individual to the exclusion of all others. That same finding was reported in a 2001 review, which “revealed a lack of valid evidence to support many of the assumptions made by forensic dentists during bite mark comparisons.”134 Some research is warranted in order to identify the circumstances within which the methods of forensic odontology can provide probative value.
American Board of Forensic Odontology, op. cit.
I.A. Pretty. 2003. A Web-based survey of odontologists’ opinions concerning bite mark analyses. Journal of Forensic Sciences 48(5):1-4.
C.M. Bowers. 2006. Problem-based analysis of bite mark misidentifications: The role of DNA. Forensic Science International 159 Supplement 1:s104-s109.
I.A. Pretty and D. Sweet. 2001. The scientific basis for human bitemark analyses—A critical review. Science and Justice 41(2):85-92. Quotation taken from the abstract.