Jenner & Block

Firm Clears Critic of Bite-Mark Identification in Dispute with Professional Organization

Jenner & Block has cleared Dr. C. Michael Bowers, a nationally renowned critic of bite-mark identification, of misconduct charges brought before the American Academy of Forensic Sciences, a prominent professional organization.

Dr. Bowers had supplied much of the research upon which the National Academy of Sciences, in its landmark 2009 report on forensic science, relied when it criticized the reliability and validity of claims that dental experts can identify a suspect or defendant, to the exclusion of all others, by examining the bite marks left in a victim’s skin.  As an expert witness, Dr. Bowers gave testimony that helped exonerate a number of defendants convicted at least in part on bite-mark identification testimony, including Bennie Starks, who was released by authorities in Lake County, Illinois, and exonerated in 2013.

The firm and Partner Gabriel A. Fuentes agreed to represent Dr. Bowers pro bono before the Ethics Committee of the AAFS after the organization received a complaint about testimony Dr. Bowers had given in several earlier cases in which he had testified as an expert.  The complaint alleged that in these past cases, Dr. Bowers had misrepresented scientific data or misstated other facts or his own credentials.  Mr. Fuentes and Associate Ramon Villalpando defended Dr. Bowers in a one-day trial before the AAFS Ethics Committee in July 2014 in Chicago.  Their defense sought to establish that each of the allegations either did not state ethical violations or were based on an inaccurate or incomplete understanding of the facts of the earlier cases.

After the trial, the Ethics Committee dismissed all but one of the charges against Dr. Bowers but still recommended his expulsion from the AAFS.   Messrs. Fuentes and Villalpando appealed on behalf of Dr. Bowers to the AAFS Board of Directors.  On February 16, 2015, the 18-member Board of Directors voted unanimously to dismiss the case against Dr. Bowers.   

“Dr. Bowers and the firm are grateful to the AAFS Board of Directors for thoroughly reviewing our presentation on behalf of Dr. Bowers,” Fuentes said.  “He is pleased to move forward with his career as a noted expert witness.”

The Jenner & Block team also consisted of Summer Associate Angela Romano and Paralegal Gabriella Guajardo.  In its representation of Dr. Bowers, the firm partnered with the New York-based Innocence Project and the New York law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP.  Innocence Project Director of Strategic Litigation M. Chris Fabricant and Weil, Gotshal Partner Irwin H. Warren and Associate Albert F. Cahn provided critical assistance in developing the trial and appeal strategy and in preparing the pleadings and briefs filed by Dr. Bowers with the AAFS.