New York State’s database of human DNA is set to become one of the most comprehensive in the country following lawmakers’ approval of a bill yesterday requiring all convicted criminals to give samples.
New York has collected DNA data since mid 1990s, and convicted felons are already required to provide genetic samples to law enforcement. The new legislation extends the data-gathering to people convicted of misdemeanors. Every District Attorney and sheriff in the state, as well as 400 police chiefs and prosecutors, supported the bill. Supporters argue the expansion will not only help law enforcement trace suspects in serious crimes, but also exonerate the innocent.
The legislation contains clauses allowing defendants expanded access to evidence, including a mechanism forcing prosecution to turn over DNA evidence to defense.
But will those charged with crimes be able to count on getting cooperation? Today on the Daily Q we ask, just how much access will defendants have to their own DNA?
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What we found
The new law will give New Yorkers more access to their own DNA samples collected by law enforcement than ever before. While defendants will still not own the results, the new access opens avenues for both accused and convicted criminals to present their own DNA as evidence in court.
Richard Aborn, president of the Citizens Crime Commission in New York City, a group seeking to strengthen the justice system, says he welcomes the legislature’s decision to broaden the databank’s scope. “DNA is the fingerprinting of the 21st century,” he told The New York World. “This bill properly allows law enforcement to use what is a very powerful tool to not only convict, but acquit defendants.”
Among the ways the legislation promises to improve defendants’ and convicts’ access to their DNA samples:
– Defendants will have the ability to force prosecution into handing over DNA evidence, under certain circumstances following a conviction where the defendant has professed his or her innocence and has had an evidentiary hearing to verify details.
– Defendants can obtain DNA testing after they’ve entered a guilty plea. This is a dramatic shift from current law, under which defendants who plead guilty forgo their right to request DNA testing.
– A court can order a pretrial “keyboard search” comparing the defendants’ DNA with other samples in the database.
– The law sets new standards for reversals of criminal judgments based on DNA testing.
The New York Civil Liberties Union condemned the databank expansion bill, labeling it “long on politics and short on justice.” The group took issue with what it sees as a lack of regulatory oversight for the crime labs where the samples are processed.
Aborn says he disagrees. “New York is one of the few states in the U.S. where crime labs are fully accredited and regulated,” he said. “There is not one incident on record in New York and this is proof enough.”