Like most states, New York already collects DNA samples from convicted felons. On March 19, 2012, however, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo signed into law a bill that permits the collection of DNA samples from people convicted of misdemeanors as well.
This makes New York’s DNA database the most expansive in the United States, according to Governor Cuomo’s office.
Unsurprisingly, the bill had the support of New York’s 62 district attorneys, 58 sheriffs and 400 police chiefs. Prosecutors claim that collecting DNA from misdemeanor offenders will help them identify violent criminals and, in some cases, exonerate people who are wrongly accused.
“Every single time we’ve expanded the DNA database, we have shown how effective it is in convicting people who commit crimes,” said Richard Aborn, president of the Citizens Crime Commission of New York City. “We’ve also shown that it can be used to exonerate the innocent.”
In an opinion article, Manhattan prosecutor Cyrus R. Vance, Jr. argued that taking DNA samples from individuals convicted of low-level offenses has proven effective. He claimed that since the state began collecting DNA from people convicted of petty larceny, investigators have identified suspects linked to 48 murders and 220 sexual assaults statewide.
For example, Vance cited his prosecution of Lerio Guerrero for a 1998 rape. Although Guerrero had been arrested several times since 1998, he was never convicted of a crime serious enough to require the taking of a DNA sample. However, he smoked a cigarette when he was questioned for trespassing in 2011, and DNA taken from the butt of the cigarette linked Guerrero to the rape.
“The DNA databank expansion is particularly critical when studies show that persons who commit serious crimes have also often committed other crimes including lower-level misdemeanors,” said state Senator Steve Saland, who sponsored the bill. “This law provides a powerful tool to bring closure to unsolved crimes and prevent further crimes from taking place, while providing a means by which a wrongfully convicted person can be exonerated, or a suspect eliminated.”
Defense attorneys who seek DNA evidence to exonerate falsely accused clients have argued that courts often place onerous restrictions on post-conviction access to such evidence. Consequently, the new law that broadens New York’s DNA database also “significantly expands defendants’ access to DNA testing and comparison both before and after conviction in appropriate circumstances, as well as to discovery after conviction where innocence is claimed.”
Sources: Press release from Governor Cuomo’s office (March 19, 2012), Associated Press
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