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The problems with bitemark evidence

On Behalf of | Nov 9, 2022 | Criminal Defense

The field of forensics in New Jersey and around the country has undergone a substantial change in recent decades. A number of previously established practices have been challenged and studied with fresh insight. Many of these practices had led to wrongful convictions and poor police work. One of these areas is bitemark evidence. This type of forensic evidence has been thrown into doubt in recent years as the profession has focused more on DNA and microscopic analysis.

What is bitemark evidence?

Bitemark evidence is a common field of forensics that is focused on criminal investigations. It is based on a number of assumptions about dental records and the way humans bite. The theory was that the relationship between dental records and the contours of a bite could connect a particular person to a crime scene. Researchers also assumed that skin could hold the contours of a bite long enough to be studied and analyzed by scientists. Bitemark evidence was often used in situations when more direct forms of evidence were not available. It led to hundreds of convictions over the past few decades.

Problems with evidence

A number of challenges to bitemark evidence have led to convictions being overturned. One is that the assumptions behind it may be wrong. Human beings likely do not bite in a way that reflects their dental records. They do not always bite the same way. In addition, skin does not perfectly preserve the marks of a bite. Skin is often flexible and molds in order to heal and respond to a bite. The marks cannot be preserved in a reliable manner.

Therefore, the entire practice is inherently flawed and should not be used. Some police departments are starting to move away from bitemark evidence. But the rest of the policing profession needs to more proactively respond and discard the practice as a historical relic.