Race No Longer a Relevant Element in DNA Trial Evidence
Criminal Justice, Vol. 24, p. 39, 2009
3 Pages Posted: 30 Oct 2011
Date Written: January 1, 2009
Is it appropriate to use race in the presentation of forensic DNA evidence in a court of law? Much attention has been devoted to some of the ethical, legal, and social issues presented by the use of DNA typing to produce phenotypic “profiles” of crime suspects based on DNA samples found at crime scenes. Of particular concern is the use of so-called “ancestry information markers” (AIMs) to predict a suspect’s race or ethnicity. But these discussions overlook the conceptually distinct and more prevalent use of race in the development and presentation of forensic DNA evidence in criminal trials. In contrast to DNA profiling, which is used to try to identify a suspect, DNA evidence is presented at a trial to try to convict a suspect. Trial evidence DNA tries to establish a “match” between DNA found a crime scene and DNA obtained from an apprehended suspect. This match is currently based on finding an identity across 13 genetic loci, which, in contrast to AIMs, were explicitly chosen for their purported lack of any connection to phenotypic traits. In this context, race is used to help calculate odds regarding the probability that the same DNA profile might match a random individual in the population other than the suspect. One might say that in such calculations race is used to generate odds, whereas in DNA profiling odds are used to generate race. This article explores the origins of race in DNA evidence and the conflation of race, DNA, and crime.
Keywords: Race, race profiling, DNA profiling, DNA, evidence, ancestry information markets, AIM, phenotypic traits
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