skip navigation


Register for Latest Research

Stay Informed
Register with NCJRS to receive NCJRS's biweekly e-newsletter JUSTINFO and additional periodic emails from NCJRS and the NCJRS federal sponsors that highlight the latest research published or sponsored by the Office of Justice Programs.

NCJRS Abstract

The document referenced below is part of the NCJRS Virtual Library collection. To conduct further searches of the collection, visit the Virtual Library. See the Obtain Documents page for direction on how to access resources online, via mail, through interlibrary loans, or in a local library.


NCJ Number: 162449 Find in a Library
Title: Out of the Blue
Journal: ABA Journal  Volume:82  Dated:(February 1996)  Pages:50-55
Author(s): M Hansen
Date Published: 1996
Page Count: 6
Type: Issue Overview
Format: Article
Language: English
Country: United States of America
Annotation: This article reviews the history and the criticisms of Michael H. West, a forensic dentist, who testifies regularly in courts regarding the matching of teeth to bite marks, among other matters pertinent to placing or excluding a defendant at a crime scene.
Abstract: By his own estimate, West has appeared in court as an expert approximately 55 times in nine States over the past dozen or so years, at least a third to a half of which were capital murder cases. He says he lost his first bite-mark case in 1983 but has not lost one at trial since (excluding any convictions reversed on appeal). West's proclaimed expertise, however, is not limited to bite marks. He has been used, mostly as a prosecution expert witness, to match wounds with weapons, shoes with footprints, fingernails with scratches, and even spills with stains. West is perhaps best known for his controversial use of a special blue light to study wound patterns on a body. With a pair of yellow- lensed goggles and a long-wave ultraviolet light, West claims he can see things that are otherwise invisible to the unaided eye. The problem with the blue light, according to his scientific counterparts, is that West sees things under it that he cannot document and that nobody else can see. His peers further say that even when he has not used such a light, West has claimed to see things that he has not been able to document. Many of his critics insist that West is an incompetent scientist who fails to follow generally accepted scientific techniques and testifies about his findings with an unheard of degree of scientific certainty. West is suing the American Academy of Forensic Sciences, from which he resigned in 1994, after its ethics committee recommended that he be expelled for allegedly failing to meet professional standards of research, misrepresenting data to support a general acceptance of his techniques, and offering opinions that exceed a reasonable degree of scientific certainty. West also was suspended 2 years ago from the American Board of Forensic Odontology. The board found that West had misrepresented evidence and testified outside his field of expertise. The fact that West continues to be allowed to testify as an expert witness in criminal trials raises the issue about the court's criteria for qualifying experts with questionable scientific backgrounds and methods. Some of the cases in which West has testified are reviewed in this article.
Main Term(s): Court procedures
Index Term(s): Dental analysis; Expert witnesses; Suspect identification; Witness credibility
To cite this abstract, use the following link:

*A link to the full-text document is provided whenever possible. For documents not available online, a link to the publisher's website is provided. Tell us how you use the NCJRS Library and Abstracts Database - send us your feedback.