Over the weekend, the
New York Times
reported on the notable efforts that the state of Texas is taking to strengthen its criminal investigations by way of reexamining forensic methods that have come under scrutiny in recent years. At the forefront of those now-discredited methods being evaluated in the Lone Star state is bite mark analysis, an investigation tool that gained popularity in the 1950s with forensic examiners as a means to allegedly link individuals to crime scenes.
Since 2000, there have been 26 cases in which people have had their convictions reversed or their indictments dismissed based on discredited bite mark comparison and testimony. Innocence Project client Steven Mark Chaney is one of those people. In 1987, he was convicted of murdering a married couple and sentenced to life in prison based on the testimonies of two forensic dentists who said that his bite marks matched those found on one of the victims. Two months ago, a Dallas judge reversed Chaney’s conviction and released him from prison based on results which showed that DNA testing of all evidence related to the crime scene excluded him as the source. Chaney is currently out on bail while the Dallas District Attorney continues to reinvestigate the case.
In light of Chaney’s case and others like it in Texas, the Innocence Project filed a complaint with the
Texas Forensic Science Commission
—formed in 2005—in which it asked the agency to conduct an audit of all of the state’s convictions in which bite mark comparison played a role. The
writes that in recent years, many experts—including forensic practitioners—have started speaking out against the use of bite mark analysis in the court room as mounting evidence reveals that the practice is purely subjective; it’s never been proven to be rooted in any type of science.
“Some aspects of forensic science have never been validated,” said Chairman of the Texas Forensic Science Commission Vincent Di Maio, according to the
New York Times
. “That’s a problem that had to be addressed, and nobody else was going to do it for us.”
reports that the commission has “so far identified about three dozen cases that used bite-mark evidence, said Lynn R. Garcia, the body’s general counsel. Once the commission recommends guidelines, any cases that relied heavily on testimony considered invalid under the forthcoming report may be reopened.”
The results from the commission’s audit are due out in February.
Read the entire article
Learn more about Chaney’s case
about the investigation of bite mark analysis in Texas.