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Junk science leads to convictions for violent crimes

Crime scene investigators rely on forensic science to help them connect a crime to a suspect. Particularly when investigating violent crimes, officers may collect traces of evidence and process them in a lab. The critical stage occurs when supposed forensic experts testify to a jury about the reliability of their findings. Juries are often convinced by forensic testimony from so-called experts. However, one Texas man's long ordeal began when investigators used junk science to convict him of murder.

For more than 30 years, the man was incarcerated after a jury convicted him of murdering a couple in 1987. The damning evidence was a bite mark the alleged killer left on the arm of one of the victims. Forensic odontologists, those who analyze bite marks, testified that the teeth marks matched the bite of the accused man, and that the chances of someone else leaving the marks were a million to one.

Since then, odontology has become one of the growing elements of forensic investigation known as junk science. Since the skin is so soft and pliable, it is often impossible for detectives to know if a mark was even made by teeth, let alone determine definitively whose teeth make the mark. Armed with this information, the man successfully sought to have his conviction overturned. He is now a free man, and a recent ruling by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has declared he is innocent of the charges.

This is one example of the importance of challenging the evidence when facing charges of violent crimes. The penalties for convictions for such crimes can mean years behind bars, which can be devastating for a family. Seeking skilled legal representation is a wise move.

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John M. Petruzzi, Attorney at Law
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