Technology companies offering products that analyze DNA evidence have routinely argued against revealing how their software works in order to protect trade secrets.
However, a Pennsylvania federal judge ruled that defendants have a right to challenge complex DNA analysis software that implicates them in criminal cases.
Pennsylvania ruling sides with defendant’s rights
The ruling involves tech vendor Cybergenetics’ TrueAllele software. The company claims revealing the inner workings of the product could harm its commercial interests in keeping the information private.
However, in a milestone January ruling, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania says those economic concerns do not outweigh a suspect’s rights to challenge evidence and ordered the software source code to be released to the defense team.
A protective order was issued by the court, keeping the information from being shared with the public. However, in similar state court rulings, product details have been released publicly for other DNA analysis programs after serious flaws were discovered.
The ruling could have far-reaching implications
While various state court rulings across the nation have directed DNA analysis software code to be revealed to defense lawyers, this is the first time a federal court has issued such an order.
The decision reinforces the basic tenets of due process, which says people accused of crimes must be able to defend themselves from evidence used against them.
In many cases, private companies that do business with the government are protected from revealing trade secrets in products used in criminal cases, ranging from DNA analysis in major felonies to determining the accuracy of breathalyzers in drunk driving cases.