In 1996, the state of New York began collecting DNA samples from people convicted of murder or sex crimes. Since then, the database has been expanded to allow state authorities to collect DNA samples from people convicted of all felonies and many misdemeanor crimes contained in the state’s penal code. Currently, the database includes DNA samples from over 386,000 people and approximately 38,000 crime scenes, according to The Associated Press (AP).
New York’s collection of DNA samples has helped authorities solve many crimes and led to approximately 2,700 convictions, including 51 murders, 222 sexual assaults and 407 burglaries in the last five years, according to the AP. More importantly, the genetic samples have led to the release of 27 people wrongly accused or convicted or a crime.
The database has been expanded to include an increasing number of felonies and misdemeanors three times since 1996, and now Governor Andrew Cuomo is supporting a fourth expansion of the database. If the legislation passes, the database would be expanded to allow for the sampling and collection of DNA from people convicted of all penal code misdemeanors – as the AP reports, this would include misdemeanor driving while intoxicated (DWI) convictions – and many non-penal code felonies.
Talking about the expansion of the DNA-sample database, the AP quoted Gov. Cuomo as stating: “We are missing an important opportunity to prevent needless suffering of crime victims. We are also failing to use the most powerful tool we have to exonerate the innocent.”
While the governor is highlighting the database’s ability to help those wrongfully accused and convicted of crimes, the New York Civil Liberties Union still has questions about oversight, testing and contamination of samples, and fraud and abuse of the system.
The proposed expansion of the state’s DNA database is just another signal that those accused of DWI need to do everything they can to protect their legal rights.