Odontology in Criminal Justice Forensics Term Paper

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Odontology in Criminal Justice Forensics

Odontology has been historically used or indeed, one might say misused within the framework of the judicial system to sway juries against factual evidence and to gain a conviction because the jury fails to understand or cannot understand how evidence can be molded purposely away from the truth or how by being little understood can enhance the perceived importance assigned to those facts.Buy full Download Microsoft Word File paper
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Term Paper on Odontology in Criminal Justice Forensics Odontology Has Assignment

Flynn McRoberts and Steve Mills write in the Chicago Tribune report entitled: "From the Start, a Faulty Science" states: "The nation's leading forensic experts held their annual meeting in 1970 at Chicago's Drake Hotel, and all of the old guard was there. Fingerprint experts. Document examiners. Pathologists. Mingling among them on that late-winter day was a cluster of dentists who shared an interest in a budding discipline. They called it forensic odontology, a decidedly novel application of dentistry -- identifying violent criminals based on the bite marks they leave on the bodies of their victims. But to create their own division within the American Academy of Forensic Sciences and gain the credibility this would bestow, 10 of these forensic odontologists were needed. Only eight were in the room. The solution: They trolled the meeting rooms of the Drake and recruited a couple of pathologists who also held dental degrees. With that, a new discipline was born, joining other more commonly known investigative tools such as toxicology and bullet matching. Since that day in Chicago 34 years ago, bite-mark comparison has become a regular weapon in the forensic arsenal, with odontologists testifying in courtrooms hundreds of times." (McRoberts and Mills, 2004) David Faigman, University of California Hasting College of the Law professor and co-editor of Modern Scientific Evidence states a belief that bitemarks "probably ought to be the poster child for bad forensic science. it's not simply outsiders or defense attorneys asking fundamental questions. Inside the tight fraternity of odontologists, skeptics are raising concerns about bite-mark comparisons." (McRoberts and Mills, 2004) Dr. Michael Bowers, odontologist and lawyer and who has served on the American Board of Forensic Odontology examination and credentialing committee, which is the odontology's leading professional organization states that the comparisons "are flawed and bashed on wishful thinking, as far as being conclusive scientifically." (McRoberts and Mills, 2004) McRoberts and Hall referred to forensic odontology as being a "science-based art'.


The work of Karazulas (2001) entitled: "New Forensic Odontology Tools" describes advances in forensic odontology, which were used in gaining a conviction against Alfred Swinton in the Carla Terry murder trial. The technology used was newly patented image processing software by the name 'Lucis' which enhancing patterns in the bitemark of the human being and enables conclusive proof of bitemark identification. Lucis is a software that processes Photoshop images and has replaced the older method, which is a less accurate method in a process that traces the teeth biting edges. Furthermore, study conducted on bitemark healing processes have been successfully used in placing the murderer near the victim at the time of the victim's death. The method of proving at match involves taking impressions of the teeth of the individual who is named as suspect and then making a plaster model of the impression and scanner the teeth producing a digital image. The next step is tracing the biting edges of the suspect's teeth using the 'Lucis' software and superimposing the bitemark photo through manual or electronic means using a scanned image of the bitemark in determination of whether the bitemark and the suspect's teeth are a match. The benefits of the Lucis software include the benefit of the patent under which Lucis operates which enables the images to be enhanced in such a way that even when the pictures of the bitemark are not high quality and when the characteristics of the bitemark have began to fade because of the quick healing process of the human body. Image-processing software further assists in semi-transparency imaging of the plaster model which can be "superimposed on the bitemark image instead of using a tracing of the biting edges of the teeth" which eliminates inaccuracies in the process and renders a "clearer picture of the relative characteristics of the teeth and bitemark. Once having confirmed the bitemark as matching the suspect's teeth it is necessary to make a determination of when the bitemark was inflicted on the victim.

In 2003, Sylvia-Louise Avon, a graduate student at the University of Toronto, Canada stated a challenge to convention wisdom in bitemark forensics. In the work entitled: "Grad Student Takes a Bite Out of Forensics" stated is that Avon and her supervisor, Professor Robert Wood of dentistry along with the provincial coroner's office "presented a paper at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences in Chicago Feb. 21 that questioned the way pathologists determine whether bite marks were inflicted before or after death." (Hall, 2003) Specifically state in the information presented is: "The majority of pathologists assume that if you have a bruise, the bite mark was made before death because you still have your blood pressure and that if you tear or break the underlying vessel, the blood is going to go into the tissue and the degradation of the red blood cells is going to make the skin look yellow, red, black, green," Avon said. Conversely, it is believed that marks inflicted after death do not lead to bruising. This distinction is frequently relied on in court. If I go and testify without any factual basis, then I'm guessing. And that means a man's either going to jail or not. Alternately, someone who should go to jail is going to walk free. There was nothing in the literature to support this interpretation of ante- versus post-mortem infliction of bite marks..." (Hall, 2003) the experiment of Avon and Wood involved bitemarks that were inflicted on a pig with a 'Bite-o-matic', which had been "calibrated to inflict 23 kilograms of force, the maximum amount typically generated by a young man." (Hall, 2003) the report states that no difference can be noted in the bitemarks before and after death of the pigs in this experiment Avon and Wood state: "Morphologically, just on the straight visual look of them, the bite marks produced five minutes prior to death and five minutes after death are indistinguishable." (Hall, 2003) Furthermore, the study of Avon and Wood states findings that the technique referred to as 'translumination', which is the processes of light through a piece of skin - did not enable garnering of information in bitemark analysis.

In a report published in August 2007 entitled: "Indeed and without a Doubt" related is the story of a Mississippi dentist, Dr. Michael West, who is a "self-described forensic odontologist or bite mark analyst. He testified in dozens of cases over the years, almost always for the prosecution. Kennedy Brewer was accused of killing his girlfriend in 1991 and was sentenced to death spending the last 13 years on death row. This conviction was handed down much upon the basis of the testimony of Dr. West who testified that "he found 19 bite marks on Christine Jackson's body which matched Brewer's teeth. West claims he could make the identification because of a chip in one of Kennedy Brewer's top teeth, and because Brewer's upper teeth are sharper than his lower teeth. A defense expert countered that the marks were actually insect bites -- the result of Jackson's body being outside for two days before it was found." (Balko, 2007) Balko (2007) relates that forensic ondontology is "an imprecise field. It often draws heavy scrutiny from other forensics experts. There's a troublingly long list of cases in which someone convicted on the word of a bite mark expert was later exonerated with improved DNA testing. In 1999, one forensic odontologist tested his colleagues with a sample crime scene bite mark during a conference workshop. Six of 10 wrongly traced the bite mark back to an innocent person. But even in an already imprecise field, Dr. Michael West has taken forensic odontology to bizarre, megalomaniacal depths. West claims to have invented a system he modestly calls "The West Phenomenon. n it, he dons a pair of yellow goggles and with the aid of a blue laser, he says he can identify bite marks, scratches, and other marks on a corpse that no one else can see -- not even other forensics experts. Conveniently, he claims his unique method can't be photographed or reproduced, which he says makes his opinions unimpeachable by other experts. Using the "West Phenomenon," West once claimed to have found bite marks on a decomposed woman's breast that previous pathologists had missed." (Balko, 2007) Balko goes on to state that in 2002, the attorneys representing Kennedy Brewer managed to move the state to conduct DNA testing on the semen found in the body of the victim. At the time that Brewer was tried in this case the DNA samples were too small for testing however, new DNA testing methods… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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