Decoding Differences in DNA Forensic Software2018-2019

Imagine testing the fingernail scrapings of a murder victim to determine if a suspect could be the killer, only to have one DNA interpretation software program incriminate the suspect and a different program absolve them. Such a scenario played out two years ago in the widely-publicized murder trial of Oral Nicholas Hillary, raising questions that the criminal justice system still cannot answer: why, when, and by how much do these programs differ from one another? To answer these questions, this Magic Grant assembles a multi-disciplinary team — Jeanna Matthews is a Computer Scientist; Nathan Adams, a DNA investigations specialist; Jessica Goldthwaite with The Legal Aid Society; Dan Krane, a Biologist; Surya Mattu, a Journalist; and David Madigan, a Statistician. This Magic Grant project will systematically compare forensic DNA software, moving the story beyond anecdotal examples to a systematic investigative strategy. In the process, they will explore important issues of algorithmic transparency, and the role of complex software systems in the criminal justice system and beyond.