A common mistake often made in criminal cases is the blind acceptance of a witness as an expert. This is no more evident than in the case of Ray Krone. Ray was convicted and sentenced to die based upon the testimony of a dentist whose opinion was rooted in the faulty and inexact method of bite mark to teeth comparisons. Further, the dentist's findings were later shown to be incorrect by DNA. How could this happen, how could the dentist be allowed to testify at trial? Ray Krone, like many others, was not only a victim of poor police work and junk science, but also of timing.
Those who testify as an expert at a trial can have great influence on a jury because they are permitted to offer an opinion, something not permitted for lay (regular) witnesses. An expert can say "I believe" or "it is my opinion." Lay witnesses are restricted to "I saw, I did or I heard." The expert's opinion is further buttressed by the fact that she is presented as knowledgeable and her opinion is presumed to be based on the scientific method. However, this was not true in Ray's case. The methodology of bite mark comparisons was/is not supported by the scientific method. But why was the faulty, yet highly damning, evidence permitted? Why didn't his attorney's challenge the dentist or bite mark comparisons?
At the time of Ray's trials (1991 and 1995), experts were permitted to testify if they were "knowledgeable" and their practice or method was "generally accepted." It was not until the United Supreme Court in the cases of Daubert v Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, 526 U.S. 137 (1993) and Kuhmo Tire v. Carmichael, 526 U.S. 137 (1999) established new standards for the qualification of experts. Daubert established that experts of all kinds must be knowledgeable and the method or process employed must be scientifically proven to be both reliable and valid.
Had Ray Krone gone to trial in 2000, his attorneys could have and presumably would have challenged the reliability and validity of bite mark comparisons through what is now commonly called a Daubert challenge. Had a Daubert challenge been made it is highly likely that the testimony based on the much maligned practice of comparing bite marks to a set of teeth would not have been permissible. The result - Ray Krone most likely would never have spent a day in prison.
Ray Krone is not the only person to ever by wrongfully convicted by junk science or unqualified experts. Unfortunately, he will definitely not be the last. Although courts and defense attorneys are becoming more vigilant, some things have not changed. Far too often I am confronted by cases in which individuals hold themselves out to be experts, who are not. I also have found that the methodology used in some cases is either faulty or rooted in antiquated or suspect research. One of the lessons to be learned from Ray is that simply because someone says they are an expert, does not mean that they are one, and definitely does not mean they should testify in a criminal trial.