(Radley Balko blogs about criminal justice, the drug war and civil liberties for The Washington Post. He is the author of the book "Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America's Police Forces."..."Last month, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit granted qualified immunity to Lowell Thomas Johnson and Raymond Rawson, the two bite mark specialists whose testimony helped convict Robert Lee Stinson of raping and murdering an elderly Wisconsin woman in 1984. Stinson spent 23 years in prison before DNA testing exonerated him in 2009. Further testing implicated a man named Moses Price, who then confessed to the crime. The only real evidence against Stinson was the testimony of Johnson and Rawson, who claimed they could match bite marks on the victim’s body to Stinson, to the exclusion of everyone else. Johnson claimed that the marks on the woman “had to have been made by teeth identical in all of these characteristics” to Stinson’s. Rawson claimed the marks matched Stinson’s teeth “to a reasonable degree of scientific certainty.” Stinson claims to have been severely beaten when he was arrested. Before trial, Stinson’s attorneys consulted with their own bite mark analyst. That analyst too claimed that the marks were a match to Stinson. So Stinson’s attorneys never called a witness to contradict Johnson and Rawson. They did attempt to draw attention to a line in a forensics journal about how some experts disagreed with the conclusions of bite mark analysts. The trial judge refused to let them. Stinson was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. I wrote a bit about Stinson’s case in my series on bite mark evidence that ran in February. The particularly remarkable thing about Stinson’s case is that in his appeal, he challenged the validity of bite mark analysis, claiming that there’s no scientific research to support its claims. In 1986, the Wisconsin Supreme Court conceded in a footnote that without the bite mark evidence, the state’s case against Stinson “may not have been sufficient to convict him.” But the court not only rejected Stinson’s appeal; the justices also spent a dozen paragraphs meticulously explaining why bite mark evidence is sound. In one footnote, the justices pointed out that at the time of the decision, “bite mark comparison has received evidentiary acceptance in nineteen jurisdictions. No jurisdiction has rejected the admission of such evidence.”.........The Stinson case itself then became a case that prosecutors would cite in seeking to have bite mark evidence admitted and that appeals courts would cite in upholding its validity.........Of course, Stinson was innocent, although that wasn’t discovered until he’d lost 23 years of his life. In its decision last month, the unanimous Seventh Circuit panel found that unless Stinson can show that Rawson and Johnson knowingly fabricated evidence, the two dentists are protected by qualified immunity and can’t be sued. It isn’t enough that their expert testimony was self-evidently bogus; Stinson would have to prove that they didn’t believe their own nonsense. And barring some smoking-gun audio recording of the experts admitting as much, that’s next to impossible......... The problem is that this case didn’t exist in a vacuum. The courts allowed fraudulent experts to put a man in prison. But the courts now say that because the courts made that mistake, the man who was wrongly imprisoned can’t sue those experts. Moreover, Raymond Rawson and Lowell Thomas Johnson didn’t just use bogus science in this one case; they also were evangelists for bite mark evidence. They actively tried to persuade other judges and other appeals courts to accept bite mark evidence. And they (and others like them) have been enormously successful. In fact, Raymond Rawson would go on to help convict another innocent man — Ray Krone spent a decade in prison and was nearly executed after he was convicted of killing Phoenix waitress Kim Ancona. Krone was exonerated by DNA evidence in 2002. Over the years, Rawson has authored dozens of articles about bite mark analysis published by forensic journals. He was president of the American Board of Forensic Odontology, the leading advocacy group for bite mark analysts. He co-wrote the group’s original guidelines for bite mark matching. He has taught bite mark analysis and served as a consultant to local governments. He even won a seat in the Nevada state Senate. Lowell Thomas Johnson has also been a fierce advocate for bite mark matching. In May 2008, Johnson was profiled in USA Today for starting a database of human dentition that he claimed would provide scientific validation for his field. (It didn’t.) That article appeared about a year before Johnson would learn that a man he helped convict two decades ago had been proved innocent by DNA testing.......... It took more than three decades, but over the past several years, actual scientists have finally started testing the claims of bite mark analysts. And as we’ve pointed out on several occasions here at The Watch, those scientists are showing that bite mark analysis is a fraudulent field. Even the ABFO’s own effort to show that its accredited analysts used sound science backfired and showed precisely the opposite. When given photos of marks on human skin, the analysts couldn’t even come to a consensus on whether marks were made by human teeth. Last July, a senior-level science adviser to President Obama said that bite mark evidence should be “eradicated” from the courtroom. The same month, Judge Gary Feinerman of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois found that “There appears to be little, if any, scientifically valid data to support the accuracy of bite mark comparison, and the data that does exist is damning.” He went on to call bite mark analysis “transparently fraudulent” and compared the field to astrology. But just as with Stinson, Feinerman found that bite mark analysts who testify are protected by qualified immunity. In fact, he ruled that the very quackery of the field protects its practitioners from liability..........Robert Lee Stinson wants the courts to extract a reckoning from the men who wrongly put him in prison. Our system doesn’t allow that. But before you can have a reckoning with fraudulent expert witnesses, the system would first have to admit that it was wrong to allow them to testify. And yet despite all the exonerations, critiques and science debunking bite mark analysis, that’s still something no state court has been able to do."
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