New York Expands DNA Databank

Supported by law enforcement, judges, crime victims and scientists, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed into law the nation's first “all crimes DNA” bill earlier this month, making New York the first state to require DNA samples from all offenders convicted of every felony or misdemeanor, excluding possession of small amounts of marijuana.

"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,” Cuomo said in a statement about this key piece of his legislative agenda.

Police officers will now collect DNA from low-level criminals who often go on to commit more dangerous crimes. Having their DNA on file will make it easier to find them in connections with other crimes. The law also gives more access to post-conviction DNA testing for offenders trying to prove their innocence.

While New York will collect DNA from the largest range of convicted offenders, it is not the only state that collects DNA. In fact, all 50 states require DNA samples from convicted felons (Idaho's new statute will take effect in July 2013), and at least 27 states collect samples from some types of arrestees. For instance, California requires a DNA sample from anyone arrested on felony charges or jailed on a misdemeanor conviction with a prior felony. The state has about 2 million offenders' genetic material on file, according to the Associated Press.

Other states are closely watching New York's effort to expand its DNA bank. New Jersey Senator Nicholas J. Sacco has already called for New Jersey to collect DNA from every person convicted of “disorderly persons offenses,” or other less serious charges, like shoplifting or possession of small amounts of drugs.

But not everyone is on board with expanding the DNA bank. “Few people commit violent crimes or ever will,” said Robert Perry, legislative director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, in a statement. “Rather than improving crime-fighting, this expansion simply creates a permanent class of usual suspects whose DNA will be tested by police for the rest of their lives.”

The expansion also requires more capacity from the state's forensic lab, which in other states has caused backlogs and extended wait times for sample processing. But in New York's case, the lab says they can handle the new workload.  The state police lab can process about 10,000 samples each month and currently processes only about 3,500 per month, says Janine Kava, deputy director of public information at the New York division of criminal justice services. Even with the expansion, the lab will process only about 7,000 samples a month, and the state has allocated $1.4 million to help fund the increased load. 

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