Innocence Project: Legislative Agreement Makes State DNA Database System Bigger, not Better
Calls on Governor and DCJS to Address Critical Questions before Expansion Is Enacted
(New York; June 21, 2006) — The Innocence Project released the following statement today on the New York Legislature’s agreement to expand the state’s DNA database to include profiles of all felons and some misdemeanants. The statement is from Stephen Saloom, Policy Director at the Innocence Project.
“This agreement makes the state’s DNA database system bigger, but fails to make it better.
“While the agreement is wiser than the radical expansion the Senate and the Governor advocated, it still leaves critical questions unanswered. This agreement does not address ongoing abuse of innocent people’s DNA, which is being collected in local ‘rogue’ databases around the state. Nothing in this agreement addresses serious concerns about how an expansion of the state database will impact the quality of DNA analysis in a wide range of cases. There are increasing questions, which also have not been addressed, about why the state is failing to turn DNA database ‘hits’ into convictions. All of these questions take on greater importance as more DNA profiles are added to the database.
“The Innocence Project supports the effective use of forensic DNA databases to prevent and solve the crimes for which DNA evidence is useful, such as rape, murder, and other serious offenses. We had hoped the Governor and the Legislature would make our state’s forensic DNA system more effective before making it bigger, but it’s not too late. Before this expansion takes effect, we call on Governor Pataki and the Department of Criminal Justice Services to take immediate action to address these critical concerns and ensure public safety.
“Specifically, the Governor Pataki and DCJS should immediately shut down all databases in the state that include innocent people’s DNA, provide the Forensic Science Commission with documentation about the increased workload this agreement will create for forensic lab analysts and a plan to handle the influx of new work, and publicly release full data on how many database ‘hits’ are being turned into convictions so that the ratio can be increased.”
Background on each of these specific areas follows.
Shut down all databases in the state that include innocent people’s DNA
The Innocence Project has documented, through Freedom of Information Law requests, that the DNA of innocent people is being databased by the state police and local jurisdictions throughout the state. Although the Assembly sought to at least partially address this issue, the agreement reached fails to end this deceptive, secretive practice.
People who provide their DNA to aid law enforcement investigations deserve to trust the government that their DNA will be used only in the investigations for which it’s sought, and when it clears them, that it will be promptly kept out of the government’s hands. That assurance does not exist today, and threatens to impede the public’s cooperation with law enforcement investigations – one of the most important crime-fighting tools there is, and one especially important in communities plagued by higher crime.
Provide the Forensic Science Commission with documentation about the increased workload this agreement will create for forensic lab analysts and a plan to handle the influx of new work
Prior to any contemplated expansion, the New York State Commission on Investigation noted that “representatives of most of the State’s forensic laboratories expressed frustration regarding the lack of funds available to hire and train qualified forensic analysts. They explained that, given the qualifications analysts must possess, hiring and training these individuals is a lengthy and costly process.”
What’s more, the Forensic Science Commission – whose statutory charge is to “increase and maintain the effectiveness, efficiency, reliability, and accuracy of forensic laboratories, including forensic DNA laboratories” – was never consulted about legislative expansion.
Four Commissioners expressed their concerns publicly in a June 5, 2006, letter to all state legislators. “Specifically, we are concerned about the lack of attention paid to whether and precisely how the state's forensic laboratory workers will handle the various proposed – and enacted – expansions of the state forensic DNA database, and what impact this might have on DNA and other backlogs, including the all critical processing time for crime scene evidence, and most importantly, the quality of DNA and other forensic analysis.”
While there is money budgeted for DNA database expansion, no documentation has been provided to the Commission, the Legislature, the press, or the public to ensure that our dedicated lab employees have the resources or capacity to handle the massive influx
created by this legislation. The Forensic Science Commission must immediately be provided with such documentation so that they can address the issue and ensure that this “remedy” does not create more problems than it solves.
Publicly release full data on how many database ‘hits’ are being turned into convictions so that the ratio can be increased
While the Governor and DCJS have noted that crime scene DNA matches the DNA profiles of many offenders in the database, they have not answered critical questions raised by
DCJS's own report
. Namely, why is New York failing to turn DNA database “hits” into convictions? This report documents that, of the first 100 DNA database “hits,” only 4 resulted in convictions in the year and a half studied. It notes further that establishing whether or not “hits” are turning into convictions is critically important to establishing the best uses of the database, and where other resources should be devoted to enable those “hits” to become convictions.
Two weeks ago, DCJS Director Chauncey Parker said he did not know how many “hits” had been turned into convictions under the current database; two days ago, he said “hits” led to 500 convictions statewide; yesterday, he said “hits” led to 600 convictions statewide. The Innocence Project has formally requested full documentation from DCJS on the questions, noting that when New York is failing to turn hits into convictions, it is failing to serve victims and protect the public.
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