New York became the first "all crimes DNA" state in the nation Monday after Governor Andrew Cuomo signed into law a bill requiring anyone convicted of a felony or penal law misdemeanor to provide a sample for the state's DNA Database.
"I am proud to sign this bill today because this modern law enforcement tool will not only help us solve and prevent crimes but also exonerate the innocent," said Governor Andrew Cuomo in a statement. "The bottom line is that this is a tool that works, and will make the state safer for all New Yorkers."
Currently, according to The Ithaca Journal, "people found guilty of any felony and 36 misdemeanors -- 48 percent of offenders in New York -- have to give a DNA sample for the databank." The new "all crimes" law, which will include misdemeanors like fare-jumping and shoplifting, goes into effect on October 12th of this year.
"This legislation is a major step forward in eliminating wrongful convictions in New York,” said Jonathan Lippman, New York’s chief judge. “The legislation takes an even-handed, balanced approach to this problem, particularly by expanding the access of convicted offenders — not only those convicted after trial, but also those who pleaded guilty — to DNA testing.”
Since its launch in 1996, the DNA Databank has been used in 2,900 convictions and helped exonerate 27 New Yorkers who were wrongfully convicted. Lawmakers in Albany have expanded the database three times-- in 1999, 2002, and 2006.
There is an exemption in the new law for those convicted of possession of a small amount of marijuana as long as they have no prior convictions.
Although championed by law enforcement officials--the bill enjoyed the support of the state’s 62 district attorneys and 58 sheriffs, as well as 400 police chiefs, according to The New York Times--the bill's drawn criticism from civil rights groups who see the measure as misdirected.
“The bill isn’t in the service of justice or fairness but rather in the interest of expanding the databank,” said NYCLU Legislative Director Robert Perry in a statement. “It will have a negligible impact on enhancing public safety but increase significantly the likelihood for inefficiency, error and abuse in the collection and handling of forensic DNA.”
“Few people commit violent crimes or ever will,” Perry continued. “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.”
And Donna Lieberman, Executive Director of the NYCLU, added, "While we appreciate the exception for marijuana possession, the fact is that the same exception should apply to all nonviolent, low level offenses. It just underscores the extent to which this deal is based more on politics than a commitment to justice.”
According to Politicker, "Governor Cuomo used his threat to veto redistricting lines proposed by the Legislature to get agreements on several of his pet projects including the databank..." The databank was one of Cuomo's main initiatives on his 2012 agenda.