A path forward for bite-mark analysis: A response to the 2009 National Academy of Science Report

Rajshekar M1,2, Julian R1, Blizzard L2, Williams A3, Tennant M4, Forrest A5, Walsh L6, Wilson G7

1Tasmanian Institute Of Law Enforcement Studies
2Menzies Institute for Medical Research
3School of Medicine, University of Tasmania
4School of Anatomy Physiology and Human Biology, University of Western Australia
5School of Natural Sciences, Griffith University
6School of Dentistry, University of Queensland
7Advanced Animal Dentistry, Brisbane

Corresponding author: Mithun.Rajshekar@utas.edu.au

Background

In 2009, the National Academy of Science1 conducted a review of forensic disciplines and their role as expert evidence in US cases, taking into consideration cases in which the convicted individual was subsequently exonerated due to DNA testing following judicial review2. Together with other latent print identification techniques, the report was critical of forensic odontology, and in particular of bite mark analysis and comparison, on the basis that they lacked rigorous scientific underpinning. The NAS reported that the limitations of forensic techniques included inadequate scientific underpinnings, a paucity of research on human observer bias, and lack of technological innovation.

The NAS report indicated that both scientific and systemic changes need to be made to bite-mark analysis, to ensure their reliability, establish standards and to promote practices that are consistent1. Instead of dismissing bite-mark analysis as just another poor forensic science, the path forward should be to follow a rigorous and comprehensive research program to understand the various factors associated with successful bite-mark analysis and address each of the issues that are relevant to the improvement of bite-mark analysis.

Aim

The overall aim of this presentation is to outline factors that affect bite-mark analysis as indicated by the NAS report and make long and short term recommendations for future research. I will also be presenting a brief outline of my PhD research. This is in response to the criticism by NAS on the lack of validity studies on techniques that can be used in bite-mark analysis. The aim of this research was to investigate the ability of a non-invasive handheld 3D-scanner to record dental features that can be used when comparing bite-marks with suspect dentitions. It can be argued that the credibility of evidence from bite-mark analysis can be strengthened by continued research, thereby minimizing wrongful convictions.

1.National Research Council. Strengthening forensic science in the United States: A path forward. Washington DC: National Academy of Sciences, August 2009. Report No.: Contract No.: 228091.

2.Project I. The Innocence Network is a group of independent organizations that exonerate and support the innocent, and redress the causes of wrongful conviction. New York: Innocence Project; 2016 [updated 2016]. Available from: http://www.innocenceproject.org/.

Biography

Dr Mithun Rajshekar is currently a final year PhD candidate at the University of Tasmania, sharing his candidature between the Menzies Research Institute Tasmania and the Tasmanian Institute of Law Enforcement Studies pursuing his research on bite-mark analysis. Mithun completed his Bachelor of Dental Surgery from India in 2006. In 2008, Mithun moved to Perth, Australia, to pursue his Masters in Forensic Sciences from theCentre for Forensic Sciences, UWA . The topic of his dissertation was Forensic Odontology and bite-mark analysis.Over the years, Mithun has published peer reviewed articles on various aspects of forensic odontology.

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