Morphological Patterns Misdiagnosed as Bite Marks In Forensic Contexts: A Scoping Review

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Francisca Dal Santo-Mendoza & Gabriel M. Fonseca


Bite mark analysis for forensic identification can be key to establishing the innocence or guilt of the defendant. However, this evidence has been challenged for its lack of consensus and objectivity, and its reported misidentifications. We present a scoping review of cases indicating misidentifications and their characterizations, and recommendations for avoid them are discussed. The strategy (“bite mark” OR “bitemark”) AND (“artifactual” OR “misidentification” OR “misdiagnosis” OR “mistake”) was used, including cases of human bite marks on skin with reported misdiagnosis, excluding experimental designs, bite marks on food or objects. A total of 13 documents were selected reporting 21 cases, covering the years 1989 to 2014. The morphological patterns with the highest report of misdiagnosis were those produced by cutting or blunt trauma due to other causes (10 cases), followed by those produced by medical conditions and emergency treatments (6 cases). At least three of the cases became public, two of them with a death sentence, and one with a 25-year sentence to life in prison. The thoroughness and standardization of the morphological evaluation of this type of evidence has been emphasized due to the significant number of erroneous convictions. This review highlights the scarce exposure and analysis of these errors, with insufficient information for critical meaningful learning and the design of tools to avoid them. There is agreement on the need to standardize and optimize protocols for these evidences and adopt a reflective behavior for their analysis for forensic identification purposes.

KEY WORDS: Misdiagnosis; Bite marks; Forensic dentistry.

How to cite this article

DAL SANTO-MENDOZA, F. & FONSECA, G. M. Morphological patterns misdiagnosed as bite marks in forensic contexts: a scoping review. Int. J. Morphol., 39(2):642-652, 2021.