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VOL. 2 | 2008 DNA Probabilities in People v. Prince: When are racial and ethnic statistics relevant?


When a defendant’s DNA matches a sample found at a crime scene, how compelling is the match? To answer this question, DNA analysts typically use relative frequencies, random-match probabilities or likelihood ratios. They compute these quantities for the major racial or ethnic groups in the United States, supplying prosecutors with such mind-boggling figures as “one in nine hundred and fifty sextillion African Americans, one in one hundred and thirty septillion Caucasians, and one in nine hundred and thirty sextillion Hispanics.” In People v. Prince, a California Court of Appeals rejected this practice on the theory that only the perpetrator’s race is relevant to the crime; hence, it is impermissible to introduce statistics about other races. This paper critiques this reasoning. Relying on the concept of likelihood, it presents a logical justification for referring to a range of races and identifies some problems with the one-race-only rule. The paper also notes some ways to express the probative value of a DNA match quantitatively without referring to variations in DNA profile frequencies among races or ethnic groups.


Published: 1 January 2008
First available in Project Euclid: 7 April 2008

zbMATH: 1166.62093

Digital Object Identifier: 10.1214/193940307000000491

Primary: 62-06 , 62P10 , 62P99 , 92D99

Keywords: conditional relevance , DNA evidence , expert testimony , genotype frequencies , likelihood ratio , population-genetics model , preliminary-fact rule , random-match probability

Rights: Copyright © 2008, Institute of Mathematical Statistics


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