University of Southern California

Black and White or Red All Over? The Impropriety of Using Crime Scene DNA to Construct Racial Profiles of Suspects

Download

Note by Natalie Quan
From Volume 84, Number 6 (September, 2011)

When the body of a deceased woman was found near the Mississippi River close to Baton Rouge in July 2002, DNA retrieved from the crime scene was linked to the murders of two other women in the area, and multiple law enforcement agencies subsequently began an aggressive search for the serial killer. Using witness statements and an FBI profile, the FBI, the Louisiana State Police, and the police and sheriff’s departments of Baton Rouge determined that their suspect was a young white man. After a fourth murder believed to have been committed by the same perpetrator occurred in December 2002, officials intensified their hunt for the killer by spending over one million dollars to collect and test the DNA of some 1200 white men in the area, but they made no matches and consequently had no leads.

In March 2003, the investigators crossed paths with molecular biologist Tony Frudakis of the company DNAPrint Genomics, who claimed that he could ascertain the suspect’s social race by testing the crime scene DNA for 176 specific genetic markers that disclose information about physical traits. Frudakis said that because certain markers are found predominantly in people of African, Indo-European, Native American, or South Asian roots, he could analyze their frequencies and predict the suspect’s ancestry with 99 percent accuracy, and then infer social race from this ancestry finding. Initially skeptical of the science, officials sent Frudakis DNA samples from twenty individuals with known racial designations—and upon blind testing the samples, Frudakis correctly identified the race of each individual.

Even more intriguing were the results of Frudakis’s analysis of the Baton Rouge serial killer’s DNA. Using a test he called DNAWitness, Frudakis concluded that the suspect’s “biogeographical ancestry” was 85 percent Sub-Saharan African and 15 percent Native American, which left, in his words, “no chance that this is a Caucasian. No chance at all.”

Donate

Make a tax deductible contribution to the Southern California Law Review.

  • Donate

Sponsors

  • Irell & Manella
  • Jones Day

Donors

Hosted By

  • USC Gould School of Law