Opinion writer

This is a pretty big deal.

An influential Texas scientific panel recommended on Thursday that bite-mark analysis not be admissible as evidence in courts, a decision experts said could lead judicial systems in other states to exclude it too.

The Texas Forensic Science Commission panel recommended a moratorium on bite-mark evidence until there is science to support its admissibility. The decision will go to the full body as early as Friday, where it will likely be approved . . .

Texas has one of the best-funded forensic science commissions in the United States, and its findings are often cited in criminal cases nationwide.

The panel recommended bite-mark analysis be put on hold until there are scientific standards to determine what is a bite mark and proficiency testing of individuals who analyze them.

It also recommended a review of cases where convictions were largely based on bite mark evidence. There was no indication on how many cases that might be.

It’s in the hundreds. This is a definitely good news. However, while the commission’s findings may (and should) influence the courts, they aren’t binding on them. And as we’ve seen over the past 10 to 15 years, there have been other warnings from whistleblowers, scientists and even the National Academy of Sciences about the dubiousness of bite mark evidence. Yet so far, no court in the country has upheld a challenge to its admissibility. If I had to guess, I think there’s a good chance this will nudge Texas’s courts to come around, but I’d be surprised if it persuaded other state courts to do the same. The criminal justice system just isn’t very good at admitting it got something wrong. And the bigger and more impactful the wrong, the harder it is to get a concession. To do so means persuading the people whose very authority rests on the integrity of the system (appellate court judges) to agree that the system’s integrity is suspect. That’s a tall order. Of course, clinging to bad science to preserve bad convictions for the purpose of finality and appearances does far more violence to the integrity of the system than admitting that the courts got something wrong. The challenge is getting these judges to see that.

You can check out my four-part series on bite mark evidence here.