Database limitations on the evidentiary value of forensic mitochondrial DNA evidence

Frederika A. Kaestle, Ricky A. Kittles, Andrea L. Roth, Edward J. Ungvarsky

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)53-88
Number of pages36
JournalAmerican Criminal Law Review
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2006
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Law


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