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Mixture interpretation: defining the relevant features for guidelines for the assessment of mixed DNA profiles in forensic casework


Currently in the United States there is little direction for what constitutes sufficient guidelines for DNA mixture interpretation. While a standardized approach is not possible or desirable, more definition is necessary to ensure reliable interpretation of results is carried out. In addition, qualified DNA examiners should be able to review reports and understand the assumptions made by the analyst who performed the interpretation. Interpretation of DNA mixture profiles requires consideration of a number of aspects of a mixed profile, many of which need to be established by on-site, internal validation studies conducted by a laboratory’s technical staff, prior to performing casework analysis. The relevant features include: criteria for identification of mixed specimens, establishing detection and interpretation threshold values, defining allele peaks, defining nonallele peaks, identifying artifacts, consideration of tri-allelic patterns, estimating the minimum number of contributors, resolving components of a mixture, determining when a portion of the mixed profile can be treated as a single source profile, consideration of potential additive effects of allele sharing, impact of stutter peaks on interpretation in the presence of a minor contributor, comparison with reference specimens, and some issues related to the application of mixture calculation statistics. Equally important is using sensible judgment based on sound and documented principles of DNA analyses. Assumptions should be documented so that reliable descriptive information is conveyed adequately concerning that mixture and what were the bases for the interpretations that were carried out. Examples are provided to guide the community. Interpretation guidelines also should incorporate strategies to minimize potential bias that could occur by making inferences based on a reference sample. The intent of this paper is to promote more thought, provide assistance on many aspects for consideration, and to support that more formalized mixture interpretation guidelines are developed.

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