Database Limitations on the Evidentiary Value of Forensic Mitochondrial DNA Evidence

38 Pages Posted: 19 Dec 2008

See all articles by Frederika Kaestle

Frederika Kaestle

affiliation not provided to SSRN

Rick Kittles

University of Illinois Chicago - College of Medicine

Andrea L. Roth

University of California, Berkeley - School of Law

Edward J. Ungvarsky

affiliation not provided to SSRN

Date Written: 2006

Abstract

Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) typing is increasingly being offered in criminal jury trials as proof that the defendant is a possible contributor of DNA found at a crime scene. As a prerequisite to introducing such evidence, the prosecution typically must estimate the frequency in the general population of the mtDNA sequence found in the defendant and the crime scene so that jurors can evaluate the probative value of the defendant's inclusion as a potential contributor. The government estimates sequence frequencies by comparing the observed sequence to sequences listed in a racially categorized mtDNA database developed and maintained by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Scientific Working Group on DNA Evidence. While mtDNA evidence has significant potential as a law enforcement tool, the SWGDAM database is currently too small and insufficiently representative to provide meaningful estimates of sequence frequencies. Most importantly, the database fails to account for historic and recent human migration patterns that, because mtDNA is maternally inherited and not recombinant, have resulted in significant regional differences in sequence frequencies. With further sampling and study, large regional databases may prove to be an effective and feasible improvement upon the current forensic database for the calculation of meaningful frequency estimates. However, until such databases and meaningful frequency estimates exist, mtDNA evidence is not yet ready for admission in criminal cases to permit inferences that suspects left mtDNA at crime scenes.

Keywords: DNA, mtDNA, mitochondrial, database, FBI

Suggested Citation

Kaestle, Frederika and Kittles, Rick and Roth, Andrea L. and Ungvarsky, Edward J., Database Limitations on the Evidentiary Value of Forensic Mitochondrial DNA Evidence (2006). American Criminal Law Review, Vol. 43, No. 53, 2006, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1247662

Frederika Kaestle

affiliation not provided to SSRN ( email )

Rick Kittles

University of Illinois Chicago - College of Medicine ( email )

1200 W Harrison St
Chicago, IL 60607
United States

Andrea L. Roth (Contact Author)

University of California, Berkeley - School of Law ( email )

442 Boalt Hall (North Addition)
Berkeley, CA 94720-7200
United States

Edward J. Ungvarsky

affiliation not provided to SSRN ( email )

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