utable to any single locus would be 1/400 (1/20 × 1/20). In any case, it seems reasonable not to attach much greater weight to any single locus.

  • The ceiling principle yields the same frequency for a genotype, regardless of the suspect's ethnic background, because the reported frequency represents a maximum for any possible ethnic heritage. Accordingly, the ethnic background of an individual suspect should be ignored in estimating the likelihood of a random match. The calculation is fair to suspects, because the estimated probabilities are likely to be conservative in their incriminating power.

Some legal commentators have pointed out that frequencies should properly be based on the population of possible perpetrators, rather than on the population to which a particular suspect belongs.17,18 Although that argument is formally correct, practicalities often preclude use of that approach. Furthermore, the ceiling principle eliminates the need for investigating the perpetrator population, because it yields an upper bound to the frequency that would be obtained by that approach.

Some have proposed a Bayesian approach,19,20,21 to the presentation of DNA evidence. However, this approach, focusing on likelihood ratios, does not avoid the kinds of population genetic problems discussed in this chapter. The committee has not tried to assess the relative merits of Bayesian and frequentist approaches, because, outside the field of paternity testing, no forensic laboratory in this country has, to our knowledge, used Bayesian methods to interpret the implications of DNA matches in criminal cases.

  • Although the ceiling principle is a conservative approach, we feel that it is appropriate, because DNA typing is unique in that the forensic analyst has an essentially unlimited ability to adduce additional evidence. Whatever power is sacrificed by requiring conservative estimates can be regained by examining additional loci. (Although there could be cases in which the DNA sample is insufficient for typing additional loci with RFLPs, this limitation is likely to disappear with the eventual use of PCR.) A conservative approach imposes no fundamental limitation on the power of the technique.


For forensic purposes, the frequency of an allele in a laboratory's databank should be calculated by counting the number of alleles that would be regarded as a match with the laboratory's forensic matching rule, which should be based on the empirical reproducibility of the system. This matching rule must account for both the quantitative reproducibility of forensic

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