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A Battle Over DNA Testing Transparency in Pittsburgh

Posted by Kevin Trombold DUI Defense Attorney | Oct 19, 2015 | 0 Comments


In DUI cases, law enforcement agencies have sophisticated testing procedures which aim to determine whether or not a driver is legally impaired. But in order for these testing protocols to be effective and trustworthy, they must be as transparent as possible so that defendants can see if  the tests were performed accurately and legally.

A similar challenge is being launched against DNA testing in a murder case in Pittsburgh. Michael Robinson is charged with homicide for allegedly shooting two men. A key piece of evidence against him is a bandanna that was found at the scene of the crime.

When law enforcement tested the bandanna using TruAllele, a software program that analyzes DNA, the forensic scientist could not reach a conclusion as to who the bandanna belonged to. So investigators called in Dr. Mark Perlin, a computer scientist at the University of Pittsburgh and man who created TrueAllele, to run another test. Perhaps not surprisingly, the man who invented the DNA software he was using claimed that he was able to conclusively determine that the bandanna belonged to Robinson.

Naturally, the defense team had some concerns about Perlin's conclusion and motives, so they engaged its own DNA expert and demanded that Perlin make TrueAllele's computer source code available for independent analysis. But Perlin is resisting those efforts, saying that his program is patented and that the DNA expert can conduct his investigation using other methods. Perlin also claims that it's a moot point because TrueAllele's accuracy is beyond reproach.

TrueAllele has been used in over 500 cases, and has successfully survived eight out of nine challenges in court, according to Perlin. But Robinson's defense lawyer counters that it's not too much to ask to look at the source code of TrueAllele, given that his client's life could be at stake (Pennsylvania is a death penalty state).

And since transparency is the most important aspect of testing by authorities, there shouldn't be any reason why the defense shouldn't challenge the disparate findings of Perlin's tests given that he created the program and has a vested interest in its success.

About the Author

Kevin Trombold DUI Defense Attorney

Highly rated by former clients, who praise his warm, knowledgeable courtside manner and his fierce determination to reduce or eliminate charges. An accomplished speaker, author, and leader in DUI defense statewide Kevin is well respected by judges, prosecutors, and other attorneys across the State of Washington for his expertise, integrity, and knowledge in the complicated forensic science area of impaired driving allegations.


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