DNA Databanks: Not Just For Felons Anymore

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Big brother just got a little bigger...

Governor Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders announced yesterday their agreement on a bill that would allow authorities to obtain the DNA of anyone convicted of a felony or a penal law misdemeanor and put it in a DNA databank that law enforcement officials could access when investigating other crimes.

The "All Crimes DNA Bill" is the first of its kind in the entire country. Previously -- in New York and everywhere else in America -- only the DNA of convicted felons was collected and entered into the databank.

In addition to giving law enforcement officials the authority to collect the DNA of those convicted of misdemeanors, the bill expands a defendant's access to DNA testing both before and after conviction "in appropriate circumstances."

Cuomo, who says he's made the bill a "centerpiece of his 2012 legislative agenda," says the following:

"It is a proven fact: DNA helps solve crimes, prosecute the guilty, and protects the innocent. This bill will greatly improve law enforcement's ability to keep New York communities safe and  bring justice to victims of violent crimes, as well as those who have been wrongly convicted. For too long, a limiting factor to our ability to solve crimes through DNA was the fact the law did not encompass all crimes. This new law will right those wrongs."

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance is lovin' the gov's bill, saying "post-conviction DNA collection for all crimes will undoubtedly produce more leads in criminal investigations. It will not only help convict the guilty and bring closure to thousands of victims in unsolved cases, it will exonerate the innocent. I want to thank our state lawmakers for expediting the agreement on the All-Crimes DNA Bill, which is a critical step in making sure that our laws recognize and use the best technology available to protect our residents."

Cuomo's office gives the following explanation of the changes:

· "All Crimes DNA" Expansion: This legislation will make New York the first state in the country to expand its DNA Databank so dramatically, a reform that promises to solve thousands of crimes and prevent thousands of others. Since its launch in 1996, New York State's DNA Databank has been a powerful tool both for preventing and solving crimes- including more than 2,900 convictions- and for proving innocence, including 27 individuals exonerated and countless suspects cleared early-on in investigations.

Previously, state law only permitted DNA to be collected from 48 percent of offenders convicted of a Penal Law crime. Among the exclusions were numerous crimes that statistics have shown to be precursors to violent offenses. As a result, New York State missed important opportunities to prevent needless suffering of crime victims and failed to use a powerful tool that could be used to exonerate the innocent.

· Expanded Access for Certain Criminal Defendants to DNA Testing: This legislation will allow defendants in certain criminal cases to obtain DNA testing prior to trial to demonstrate their innocence. Further, under appropriate circumstances defendants convicted after a guilty plea will be allowed access to such testing. Together, these reforms will help to ensure that innocent defendants are not convicted or, if convicted after a plea, are able to demonstrate their actual innocence.

· Expanded Access to Discovery for Certain Criminal Defendants After Trial: In limited circumstances, defendants will be able to seek discovery of property and other materials to demonstrate their actual innocence after their conviction. Such discovery will provide the court with the evidence necessary to reach a proper decision on a defendant's motion for such relief.

Opponents of Cuomo's plan, including the American Civil Liberties Union, say the mass collection of DNA could lead to potential error and fraud at state crime labs.

"The politics of forensic DNA are way ahead good science and public policy," Robert Perry, legislative director of the ACLU's New York branch, says in a statement. "This deal is long on collection of DNA samples and short on justice, fairness and the integrity of state crime labs."

That said, if you want to keep your DNA out of the government's hands, there's a simple way to go about it: don't break the law.

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