I believe there are 24 cases wherein erroneous bite mark testimony swayed the jury in capital murder trials. Understandable. It’s powerful, “sexy” evidence, and a presentation is worth a thousand pictures.
My peers in the field of Forensic Odontology, have made scads of money as consultants, and rightly so. To defend one’s professional opinion in a bite mark case takes guts, and the glitzier the presentation, the more polished the oration, curries favor.
But, it comes at the cost of personal integrity, for how can one accept being responsible for the loss of freedom of another person’s life, incurred in part , by ones own error in judgment, after DNA testing has proven to exonerate that individual?
For some experts, if their testimony was within reasonable bounds of the law, they feel justified, because to the best of their ability, they have “made their call”, and delivered what they consider to be, a truthful professional opinion.
But I submit to all advocates of “Truth, Justice and the American Way” that it is wise to rethink the power of the oath to which one is sworn in dentistry to “Do no harm”, and on the witness stand, “To tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth”.
The expectation of delivery of the whole truth on the witness stand is however, ludicrous, as is the expected “Do no harm ” clause, to be honored outside the realm of the dental chair.
After all, as experts in the field, we consider it our job not simply to educate the jury, but primarily, to convince them of the facts through our eyes. We are “qualified” as expert witnesses, to not only assist the trier of fact in their understanding of the scientific evidence, but ultimately to convince them of its forensic significance, through the elucidation of our “professional” opinion.
This translate into power, to say nothing of prestige. And because “I win, you lose”, righteous indignation.
But I ask you, at what price freedom? What will it cost to compensate that person wrongfully convicted? Years upon years of their lives have been stolen. Time, the final frontier. How do you make up for lost time? You don’t.
People will fall back on the imperfections of the system; they will cry – but, we have the best criminal justice system in the world – and take another sip of coffee.
That is, until change is effected, the subject of my future blogs. Thank you.