Especially for a technology with high discriminatory power, such as DNA typing, laboratory error rates must be continually estimated in blind proficiency testing and must be disclosed to juries. For example, suppose the chance of a match due to two persons' having the same pattern were 1 in 1,000,000, but the laboratory had made one error in 500 tests. The jury should be told both results; both facts are relevant to a jury's determination.

Laboratory errors happen, even in the best laboratories and even when the analyst is certain that every precaution against error was taken. It is important to recognize that laboratory errors on proficiency tests do not necessarily reflect permanent probabilities of false-positive or false-negative results. One purpose of regular proficiency testing under standard case conditions is to evaluate whether and how laboratories have taken corrective action to reduce error rates. Nevertheless, a high error rate should be a matter of concern to judges and juries.

Reported error rates should be based on proficiency tests that are truly representative of case materials (with respect to sample quality, accompanying description, etc.). Tests based on pure blood samples would probably underestimate an error rate, and tests based primarily on rare and extremely difficult samples (which might be useful for improving practice) would probably overestimate. Although the CACLD proficiency test was less than ideal (being open, rather than blind, and not requiring reporting of size measurements), the materials appear to have been representative of standard casework.

TOWARD A FIRM FOUNDATION FOR STATISTICAL INTERPRETATION

Statistical interpretation of DNA typing evidence has probably yielded the greatest confusion and concern for the courts in the application of DNA to forensic science. Some courts have accepted the multiplication rule based on the grounds of allelic independence, others have used various ad hoc corrections to account for nonindependence, and still others have rejected probabilities altogether. Some courts have ruled that it is unnecessary even to test allelic independence, and others have ruled that allelic independence cannot be assumed without proof. The confusion is not surprising, inasmuch as the courts have little expertise in population genetics or statistics.

In reaching a recommendation on statistical interpretation of population frequencies, the committee balanced the following considerations:

  • DNA typing should be able to provide virtually absolute individual identification (except in the case of identical twins), provided that enough loci are studied and that the population-genetics studies are developed with



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