Misleading DNA Evidence

Misleading DNA Evidence

Reasons for Miscarriages of Justice

1st Edition - June 12, 2014
  • Author: Peter Gill
  • eBook ISBN: 9780124172203

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Misleading DNA Evidence: A Guide for Scientists, Judges, and Lawyers presents the reasons miscarriages of justice can occur when dealing with DNA, what the role of the forensic scientist is throughout the process, and how judges and lawyers can educate themselves about all of the possibilities to consider when dealing with cases that involve DNA evidence. DNA has become the gold standard by which a person can be placed at the scene of a crime, and the past decade has seen great advances in this powerful crime solving tool. But the statistics that analysts can attach to DNA evidence often vary, and in some cases the statistical weight assigned to that match, can vary enormously. The numbers provided to juries often overstate the evidence, and can result in a wrongful conviction. In addition to statistics, the way the evidence is collected, stored and analyzed can also result in a wrongful conviction due to contamination. This book reviews high-profile and somewhat contentious cases to illustrate these points, including the death of Meredith Kercher. It examines crucial topics such as characterization of errors and determination of error rates, reporting DNA profiles and the source and sub-source levels, and the essentials of statement writing. It is a concise, readable resource that will help not only scientists, but legal professionals with limited scientific backgrounds, to understand the intricacies of DNA use in the justice system.

Key Features

  • Ideal reference for scientists and for those without extensive scientific backgrounds
  • Written by one of the pioneers in forensic DNA typing and interpretation of DNA profiling results
  • Ideal format for travel, court environments, or wherever easy access to reference material is vital


Practicing forensic scientists; lawyers; judges; criminal justice; legal; criminology; sociology; policy-makers; regulators; graduate and undergraduate forensic science courses; and anyone with a general interest in forensic science issues

Table of Contents

    • Dedication
    • Acknowledgments
    • About the Author
    • Foreword
    • Preface
    • Chapter 1: Definitions: Contamination and Interpretation
      • Abstract
      • 1.1 Historical
      • 1.2 Definition of “Trace-DNA”
      • 1.3 A Discussion on Contamination
      • 1.4 Why Do Miscarriages of Justice Occur?
      • 1.5 Some Fallacies and Errors of Thinking
      • 1.6 The Likelihood Ratio
      • 1.7 The Role of the Forensic Scientist
    • Chapter 2: A Deep Analysis of the Basic Causes of Interpretation Errors
      • Abstract
      • 2.1 An Exemplar Case: Adam Scott
      • 2.2 The Miscarriage of Justice in R. v. Jama
      • 2.3 Characterization of Error
      • 2.4 Determination of Error Rates
      • 2.5 Reporting DNA Profiles at Sub-Source Level
      • 2.6 Reporting DNA Profiles at Source Level
      • 2.7 Activity Level Reporting
      • 2.8 The Role of the Prosecution Authorities
      • 2.9 The Role of the Accreditation/Regulatory Authorities
      • 2.10 The Database Trawl Problem
      • 2.11 The Lessons of History
      • 2.12 The Essentials of Statement Writing
      • 2.13 Summary
    • Chapter 3: A Framework to Interpret “Trace-DNA” Evidence Transfer
      • Abstract
      • 3.1 The Statement Structure
      • 3.2 When and How Did the “Foreign” DNA Transfer to Underneath the Victim’s Fingernails?
      • 3.3 Base Levels of Foreign DNA Transfer from Experimental Studies
      • 3.4 Will a DNA Profile That is Transferred by Either “Passive” or Physical Means (Scratching) Persist for 7 Days?
      • 3.5 Persistence of a DNA Profile Transferred to Fingernails 7 Days Prior to Its Recovery
      • 3.6 Converting Possibilities into Broad Probabilistic Ranges: A Model for Reporting Officers
      • 3.7 Summary
    • Chapter 4: National DNA Databases, Strength of Evidence and Error Rates
      • Abstract
      • 4.1 The Testing Strategy Used by National DNA Databases
      • 4.2 There are Two Kinds of DNA Databases
      • 4.3 How the Pitchfork Case Led to the First National DNA Database
      • 4.4 Defining the “Target Population”
      • 4.5 Databases are Not Always Needed to Solve Crimes
      • 4.6 Misconceptions
      • 4.7 The Strength of Evidence Expressed as a Match Probability
      • 4.8 Conclusion
      • 4.9 Searching Entire Databases (Effectiveness Linked to the Adventitious Match)
      • 4.10 How Does a Search of a NDNAD Affect the Strength of Evidence?
      • 4.11 Focussing the Investigation (Eliminating More Suspects from the Target Population): Introducing the Concept of “Weights”
      • 4.12 The Case of R. v. Adams
      • 4.13 Calculation Using the Weight of Evidence Formulation
      • 4.14 How Does the Weighting Alter P(G|Eo) If the Suspect Is Taken from Outside the Target Population?
      • 4.15 Relevance to Miscarriages of Justice Relating to the Naïve Investigator Effect
      • 4.16 The Effect of Updating the Evidence Using DNA Profiling (Suspect Chosen from Within the Target Population)
      • 4.17 The Swamping Effect
      • 4.18 Is There a Scientific Basis to Define “Weights” Using “Geographic Profiling”?
      • 4.19 The Effect of a Database Search on the Strength of the Evidence
      • 4.20 Appeal-Court Rulings on the Use of Bayes Theorem
      • 4.21 How Far Have the Courts Adopted This Thinking?
      • 4.22 The Defendant’s Fallacy is Not Necessarily a Fallacy
      • 4.23 Reconciling the Non-DNA Evidence with the DNA Evidence
      • 4.24 The False Positive Error (the Elephant in the Room)
      • 4.25 Putting It All Together: A Simple Method for the Investigator to Follow
      • 4.26 Conclusion
      • 4.27 The Way Forward?
      • 4.28 Complex DNA Profiles: The Worrying Case of R. v. Dlugosz—An Example of a Dubious Appeal-Court Decision
      • 4.29 R. v. Dlugosz
      • 4.30 Can Expert Opinion Replace Peer Review?
      • 4.31 A Reminder of the “Scientific Method”
      • 4.32 False Positive Results
      • 4.33 Conclusion
    • Chapter 5: Concluding Remarks: Illustrated by the Case of the Death of Meridith Kercher
      • Abstract
      • 5.1 The Dynamic Background DNA Environment
      • 5.2 Laboratory Environmental Monitoring
      • 5.3 On the Limitations of the Information that can be Used to Assess the Relevance of DNA Profiling Evidence
      • 5.4 Background to the Case “Death of Meredith Kercher”
      • 5.5 An Outline of the Case Circumstances
      • 5.6 The Knife (Item 36)
      • 5.7 The “Trace-DNA” Evidence
      • 5.8 Brief Summary of the Other “Trace-DNA” Profiles on the Knife
      • 5.9 The Bra-Clasp (Item 165)
      • 5.10 How Robust is the Answer?
      • 5.11 Further Evaluation of DNA Profiling Evidence: The Limitations
      • 5.12 Modes of Transfer: Limitations of the Information that can be Used to Assess the Relevance of DNA Profiling Evidence
      • 5.13 How Was the Evidence Interpreted by the Judges?
      • 5.14 A Targeted Protocol to Assess the Prosecution Propositions
      • 5.15 Final Remarks
    • Glossary
    • Bibliography
    • Index

Product details

  • No. of pages: 100
  • Language: English
  • Copyright: © Academic Press 2014
  • Published: June 12, 2014
  • Imprint: Academic Press
  • eBook ISBN: 9780124172203

About the Author

Peter Gill

Dr. Peter Gill joined the Forensic Science Service (FSS) in 1982. He began his research into DNA in 1985, collaborating with Sir Alec Jeffreys of Leicester University. In the same year they published the first demonstration of the forensic application of DNA profiling. In 1987, Dr. Gill was given an award under the civil service inventor’s scheme for discovery of the preferential sperm DNA extraction technique and the development of associated forensic tests. He was employed as Senior Principal Research Scientist at the Forensic Science Service (FSS). Currently, he hold concurrent positions at Oslo University Hospital and the University of Oslo where he is Professor of Forensic Genetics. Romanovs In 1993-4, Dr. Gill was responsible for leading the team which confirmed the identity of the remains of the Romanov family, murdered in 1918, and also the subsequent investigation which disproved the claim of Anna Anderson to be the Duchess Anastasia (using tissue preserved in a paraffin wax block for several decades). This was an early example of an historical mystery that was solved by the analysis of very degraded and aged material, and was one of the first demonstrations of low-template DNA analysis. Low-template DNA In relation to the above, Dr. Gill was responsible for developing a routine casework-based ‘super-sensitive’ method of DNA profiling that was capable of analysing DNA profiles from a handful of cells. This method was originally known as low-copy-number (LCN) DNA profiling. Now it is known as Low template DNA profiling. New statistical methods and thinking were also developed to facilitate the new methods. National DNA database Dr. Gill was responsible for leading the team that developed the first multiplex DNA systems to be used in a National DNA database anywhere in the world, and for the design of interpretation methods that are in current use (c.1995). Court reporting: Dr. Gill has been involved with giving evidence in several high profile (controversial) cases – including the Doheny / Adams appeals, and the Omagh bombing trial in the UK. Membership of scientific societies Currently, Dr. Gill is a member of the European Network of Forensic Science Institutes and ex-chair of the ‘methods, analysis and interpretation sub-section’ He is chair of the International society for forensic genetics DNA commission on mixtures and has written a number of ISFG recommendations on low-template, mixture interpretation and evaluation of evidence that are highly cited. D. Gill is a member of the European DNA Profiling Group (EDNAP). He has published more than 200 papers in the international scientific literature which have been cited more than 20,000 times – many of these are collaborative papers under the auspices of ISFG, EDNAP and ENFSI. He is the recipient of the 2013 Scientific Prize of the International Society for Forensic Genetics. Affiliations and Expertise Forensic Genetics Research Group, Oslo University Hospital; Institute of Clinical Medicine, University of Oslo, Norwa

Affiliations and Expertise

Forensic Genetics Research Group, Oslo University Hospital; Institute of Clinical Medicine, University of Oslo, Norway