Subjective interpretation, laboratory error and the value of forensic DNA evidence: three case studies

  • William C. Thompson
Part of the Contemporary Issues in Genetics and Evolution book series (CIGE, volume 4)


This article discusses two factors that may profoundly affect the value of DNA evidence for proving that two samples have a common source: uncertainty about the interpretation of test results and the possibility of laboratory error. Three case studies are presented to illustrate the importance of the analyst’s subjective judgments in interpreting some RFLP-based forensic DNA tests. In each case, the likelihood ratio describing the value of DNA evidence is shown to be dramatically reduced by uncertainty about the scoring of bands and the possibility of laboratory error. The article concludes that statistical estimates of the frequency of matching genotypes can be a misleading index of the value of DNA evidence, and that more adequate indices are needed. It also argues that forensic laboratories should comply with the National Research Council’s recommendation that forensic test results be scored in a blind or objective manner.

Key words

forensic DNA evidence error subjective 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 1995

Authors and Affiliations

  • William C. Thompson
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Criminology, Law & SocietyUniversity of CaliforniaIrvineUSA

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