Odontology in Criminal Justice Forensics Term Paper

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In 2002 the crime lab in the state of Mississippi found that the semen in the victim's body belonged to two different men and neither of them was Kennedy Brewer. Balko concludes by stating: "Forensic scandals have been troublingly common of late, with phony experts, fake results, and incompetent testing recently uncovered in Virginia, Maryland, Kansas, Illinois, and Texas, to name just a few. Courts need to take a more active role in weeding out the Michael Wests of the world before they ever take the witness stand. But professional organizations also need to be more vigilant about policing their own. Dr. West's peers should more vocally have questioned his methods long before he was permitted to testify more than 70 times in courts across the country. One would think they'd step up their standards to protect the integrity and reputation of their profession. But these continuing scandals suggest another, more urgent reason: to prevent bad science from sending innocent people to prison." (2007)

The work of Katherine Ramsland entitled: "The Most Famous Bite" relates the 1978 story of two girls in the Chi Omega sorority house at Tallahassee's Florida State University. Both girls were killed by the serial killer Ted Bundy who had killed many females from Washington State down the country and to the state of Florida. One girl had been raped, choked and beaten on the head while the other was strangled with pantyhose and beaten on the head. While no fingerprints, blood, or weapon was found that which was found, a bitemark on the left buttock of one of the girls "was a piece of evidence that was to become a centerpiece during the trial. Ramsland states that it is critically important that the fact that teeth can be chipped, become worn and reshaped and it is "often, that factors [which] helps to distinguish one set of bite-marks from another." (2007) Additionally changing the way that teeth make impressions are: (1) restorations; (2) fillings; (3) rotations; (4) tooth loss; (5) breakage; and (6) injury that make an individual's teeth different from those of other people. There are various systems existing in the world for charting teeth and in fact, Ramsland states that over 200 methods for charting teeth exist throughout the world. The method used in the United States is referred to as the 'universal system' in which "a number is assigned to each of the thirty-two adult teeth, beginning at #1 with the upper right third molar and ending with the lower right third molar. Each tooth has five visible surfaces, and the composite information about each surface makes it possible to make grids, which are known as odontograms. Each individual's grid is unique to that person, and if they have dental disorders, gum problems, or poorly formed teeth, it makes them even easier to identify." (Ramsland, 2007) According to Ramsland, every tooth have a total of five surfaces, which are visible and due to the composite information of each surface grids can be made which are known as odontograms. The grid of each individual is unique to that person and if dental disorders of some type are present, or if the individual has a history of gum problems or teeth that are poorly formed identification is much easier. Ramsland states: "Forensic odontologists develop the skill of comparing dental impressions taken from a person's mouth to bite-mark impressions on the skin (or possibly the bones) of a victim. There are from thirty to seventy-six comparison factors to consider, including matching for striations, whorls, indentations, pitting, and abrasions, and often this is done through computer-enhanced photography. They can also analyze bite marks on food in cases where a perpetrator (even just a burglar) might have taken a bite out of something in the victim's home and left it behind. What experts seek are a sufficient number of points of similarity between the evidence and a suspect to be able to say with a reasonable degree of certainty that this is the perpetrator." (2007) Ramsland states the important fact that some bitemarks leave impressions useful in identification of the perpetrators but others do not leave an impression that is worthy to use for identification purposes. Ramsland states that the physical characteristics of the bitemark wound and the suspects teeth include: (1) Distance from cuspid to cuspid; (2) Shape of the mouth arch; (3) Evidence of a tooth out of alignment; (4) Teeth width and thickness, spacing between teeth; (5) Missing teeth; (6) Curves of biting edges; (7) Unique dentistry; and (8) Wear patterns such as chips or grinding. (2007) All of these characteristics undergo detailed examination and it is preferable that this is through the blind testing method, which is a method in which "the odonotologist is not aware of which teeth impressions belong to the suspect. Ramsland relates the information provided by forensic odontologist, Dr. Lowell Levine who relates that the markings on the skin from bitemarks indicate "such things as jaw musculature, mental state, and tongue-lip coordination of the offender." (2007) Two types of bitemark patterns are listed by Levine, which include: (1) bitemarks that appear to have been inflicted slowly and show a 'suck mark' area with an abrasion patterns that resembles a sunburst; and (2) a tooth-mark pattern, which is an attack or defensive bite. It does not leave as clear a pattern as the first type and is difficult to identify.

The work of C. Michael Bowers, Deputy Medical Examiner for Ventura California's Medical Examiner's Office and Raymond J. Johnson, Forensic Dentistry Consultant for Santa Barbara Sheriff's Office in California entitled: "Digital Rectification and Resizing Correction of Photographic Bite Mark Evidence" states the fact that bitemark forensic analysis has been accepted by the judicial system since 1954 in the United States. The identification of a specific biter has been instrumental in criminal investigations of homicide, sexual assault, and child abuse cases. The majority of bite mark cases involve photographs of bite marks on skin and other substances that are later associated with known dental evidence obtained from suspects. This comparative analysis primarily uses superimposition of these evidence samples. Therefore, the dimensional accuracy and sizing of both evidence images are of utmost importance. Forensic protocols for the photographic reproduction of crime scene evidence demand that a linear scale be placed next to the evidence sample to make an accurate comparison. This known dimensional reference allows the photographic examiner to re-create life-sized graphical reproductions. The presence of photographic distortion is evidenced by the scale's incremental lines appearing nonparallel and not uniformly shaped. Without rectification, the photographed evidence sample will not be representative of its true shape and dimension." (2001)

In an article published by the New York Times in January 2007 entitled: "Evidence From Bite Marks, it Turns Out, is Not so Elementary" states that is that Roy Brown, fifteen years ago, was convicted of a murder by "stabbing, beating, biting and strangling a social workers in upstate New York." (Santos, 2007) the primary evidence in this case was a bitemark, presumably left by Brown however, Brown was released from prison in January 2007 when DNA testing on the saliva that the biter left on the victim proved Brown was innocent. When Brown was convicted of this murder, he had two missing front teeth while the bitemarks had six tooth imprints. (Santos, 2007) Bitemark analysis is an imprecise tool demonstrated by a 1999 study conducted by the "American Board of Forensic Odontology, a professional trade organization which stated a 63% rate of false identifications." (Santos, 2007) Santos states that courts are "growing more skeptical of the absolute conclusions drawn by bite-mark experts and, in turn, are becoming more receptive when defense lawyers rebut the analysis." Santos additionally relates that with increasing pace of convictions that are overturned lawyers are taking steps "to counter what they call the 'C.S.I. effect' when juries become overly impressed by forensic evidence. During jury selection, it is not uncommon for them to ask potential jurors about their television-watching preferences to weed out those who seem unable to separate fact from fiction." (Santos, 2007) Experts state that the key for defense to bitemark analysis is for criminal defense attorneys to "know enough about the subjective components of bite-mark analysis to refute it effectively in court." (Santos, 2007) Cited as limitations in this type of analysis due to bias include the statement of David L. Faigman, professor at the University California Hastings College of the Law in what he terms the 'context effect' which refers to the fact that generally the forensic scientist has a lot of information about the suspect prior to conducting analysis on the bite mark "it's easy for them to see what they are expected to see...experts can basically be prepped to see a match." (Santos, 2007) Santos reports that in 1995 forensic odontologists stated they would avoid use of the term 'match' in reporting their analysis "so as to avoid the impression that the bitemark belongs to…[continue]

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