Houman Fakhimi

Fontana Criminal Defense Challenges Forensic Evidence

It started with a hunk of cheese in the mid-1950s, and within 20 years, forensic bite mark analysis would come to be held up in the criminal justice system as one of the most reliable forms of courtroom science. It was even considered key in obtaining a conviction against infamous serial killer Ted Bundy.

Today, as our Fontana criminal lawyers and the rest of the legal world now acknowledge, bite mark analysis as a prosecutory tool is essentially worthless.

For the most part, prosecutors won't use it anymore, even if the victim in an alleged rape or murder case has sustained an impressionable bite mark from the suspect. For one thing, the advent of DNA has all but replaced bite mark analysis in the courtroom. But perhaps the bigger reason is because today it can be so easily challenged because, as it turns out, the "science" was never as reliable or definitive as it was held up to be.

In fact, a recent investigative article by the Associated Press reveals that in the last dozen years, at least 24 men who were charged with either murder or rape on the basis of flesh bite marks on victims have been exonerated. Tragically, by the time their names were cleared, many had already spent decades behind bars.

Although the use of forensic bite mark analysis has all but fallen by the wayside in the California court system, the lesson that we can take away from it should not. It started with the conviction of a grocery store robbery suspect who reportedly left a bite mark impression on a chunk of cheese left at the scene. Within a few short years, it was being used to prosecute suspects in prolific homicide and rape cases. It was mostly being pushed by a small group of dentist who were unregulated, unchallenged and who were being paid handsomely at each trial for providing testimony that favored the prosecution.

The Bundy case, which was nationally televised, was followed by dozens more that made it seem to the American public as if bite mark analysis was not only cutting edge science, but infallible - and courtrooms accepted this with seemingly little debate.

This was a form of analysis that was in its infancy. It was prone to human error and bias. In fact, there is scant proof today that it is at all effective as a tool of identification. Even some of the dentists who helped pioneer the field have since recanted their certainty in these cases. And yet back then, it was trusted beyond a reasonable doubt.

It sounds strikingly similar to the way we uphold DNA and other forms of forensic evidence. It is not the DNA can't ever be used as a valuable tool - for either side of a criminal case. However, when someone's life work, reputation and freedom is on the line, defense lawyers owe clients the very basic duty of thoroughly vetting and questionning that information.

You may recall in recent years that problems plaguing laboratories responsible for handling DNA and blood analysis used in criminal cases have made headlines. These range from technicians improperly storing evidence to overstatements of expertise on the witness stand to technicians purposely rigging evidence in favor of prosecutors.

Fontana Criminal Defense Lawyer Houman Fakhimi is dedicated to ensuring your rights are protected.

Contact Houman Fakhimi trial attorney at (714) 705-6701 as soon as possible if you are arrested in Fontana.

Additional Resources

AP Impact: Bites derided as unreliable in court, June 16, 2013, By Amanda Lee Myers, Associated Press.