Is MtDNA Process Generally Acceptable In Applicable Scientific Community ?

MtDNA has been found scientifically reliable in some jurisdictions. In the case of United States v. Turns (US Dist Ct, ED Ohio, Jan. 24, 2000), United States District Court Judge James L. Graham found that mtDNA testing satisfied the standard set forth in Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharms. (509 US 579), which requires the trial court to determine whether the reasoning or methodology underlying the testimony is scientifically valid and can be applied to the facts in issue. Judge Graham found that the significant difference between mtDNA and nuclear DNA is that mtDNA has significantly fewer numbers of base pairs in the DNA helix. He found that the statistical analysis is based upon a formula which is apparently recognized in the scientific community and used in a variety of scientific contexts. Judge Graham determined that this statistical method is an acceptable and reliable estimate of probability. In the case of People v. Holtzer (Cir Ct, Mich, June 10, 1999) Judge Thomas Power determined, after an evidentiary hearing, that mtDNA has achieved general scientific acceptance for reliability as required by the Davis-Frye standard. In South Carolina, the high court found no error by the admittance of mtDNA (see, State v. Council, 335 SC 1, 515 SE2d 508) according to its standard. The standard used by the courts of South Carolina is whether the evidence will assist the trier of facts, whether the expert is qualified and whether the underlying science is reliable. Further, the probative value must outweigh any prejudicial effect. The Court of Appeals of North Carolina also found no error by the admittance by the trial court of mtDNA (see, State v. Underwood, 134 NC App 533, 518 SE2d 231). In North Carolina, a scientific method is admissible at trial if it is scientifically reliable, and those courts do not exclusively adhere to the Frye standard. Rather, the courts in North Carolina follow the facts as outlined by the United States Supreme Court in Daubert (supra) when determining whether scientific evidence is reliable, to wit: (1) whether the theory or technique can be or has been tested; (2) whether the theory has been subject to peer review; (3) whether the theory has been submitted to the scrutiny of the scientific community; (4) the known or potential rate of error, and (5) the general acceptance in the relevant scientific community. MtDNA has been found admissible in the State of Maryland in that it has been determined to be generally accepted in the relevant scientific community (State v. Williams, Cir Ct, Anne Arundel County, Md, May 6, 1998, North, J. affd Ct Spec App, Md, Apr. 12, 2000). Further, the courts of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania have determined that mtDNA has gained general acceptance in the relevant scientific community pursuant to a Frye standard. (See, Commonwealth v. Dillon, Ct Common Pleas, Lackawanna County, Pa, Jan. 28, 1998; Commonwealth v. Rorrer, Ct Common Pleas, Lehigh County, Pa, Jan. 20, 1998. Likewise, a Judge in California has found that the mtDNA process is generally acceptable in the applicable scientific community. (People v. Torres, Super Ct, Orange County, Cal, Sept. 21, 1999.)