Crime Victims Discuss how New York's DNA Databank Helped Bring their Attackers to Justice
Albany, NY (February 14, 2012)
Lieutenant Governor Robert J. Duffy today joined with Bronx County District Attorney Robert T. Johnson, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr., Queens County District Attorney Richard A. Brown, Richmond County District Attorney Daniel M. Donovan and Brooklyn First Assistant District Attorney Anne Swern to show support for Governor Andrew M. Cuomo's proposal to expand the state's DNA Databank, which will help solve more crimes, bring justice to victims and exonerate innocent New Yorkers. The Lieutenant Governor and District Attorneys were also joined at the New York City press conference by New York State's Deputy Secretary for Public Safety Elizabeth Glazer; Ariel Zwang, chief executive officer of Safe Horizon; Susan Xenarios, director of the Crime Victims Treatment Center at St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital Center; Ann M., the mother of a rape survivor; Natasha Alexenko, a survivor of a violent crime and founder of Natasha's Justice Project; and Tynetta Megginson, the daughter of a Bronx murder victim.
"When Governor Cuomo detailed his Executive Budget proposal last month, he unveiled the next steps in his plan to build a new New York," Lieutenant Governor Duffy said. "His plan to expand the state's DNA Databank will transform our criminal justice system. During my law enforcement career, I saw case after case where DNA evidence made a difference – excluding individuals from suspicion, identifying those responsible for crimes and giving victims closure and a measure of justice. I can't imagine why anyone would want to preclude such a powerful tool from being used to its fullest potential."
District Attorney Johnson said, "This legislation will protect both communities and innocent defendants. We should not fear the release of sensitive or personal biological information because that information will not be stored in the New York State Databank. What we should fear is the potential for violent criminals remaining at-large when they could be apprehended, and for the innocent remaining in prison when they could be freed."
District Attorney Vance said, "DNA is one of the most powerful tools we have in the criminal justice system to convict the guilty and exonerate the innocent. But the current law only allows us to collect DNA from less than half of all convicted criminals. If there was a medicine that we knew would cure and prevent disease, it is inconceivable that we would use it only 50 percent of the time. As members of law enforcement, our top responsibility is to protect residents from crime. Expanding the DNA Databank would allow us to fully harness the power of DNA technology as a crime-fighting tool to keep our communities safe and bring peace and justice to thousands of victims."
District Attorney Brown said, "DNA has the power to incarcerate the guilty and exonerate the innocent. Yet, DNA is collected from less than half of all people convicted of crimes in New York. This must change. Experience teaches that every time the state's DNA Databank has been expanded since its establishment in 1996, thousands more cold cases have been solved and countless crimes have been prevented. The cost of omitting over half of all crimes from the list requiring submission of DNA upon conviction is that those who commit brutal acts of violence may escape identification and remain free to leave more victims in their wake. Expanding the Databank to include all Penal Law misdemeanors will lessen this suffering and stop the attackers from remaining free to commit more crimes. It is a top law enforcement priority."
District Attorney Donovan said, "This is an issue that is above politics or partisanship – it's about public safety. And this proposal will literally help save lives – by preventing crimes, by exonerating those wrongly accused of crimes and by bringing some solace to victims and their families. I applaud the Governor for making the expansion of the state's DNA Databank a priority of his administration, and I urge all of my colleagues from both sides of the aisle to join him."
Assistant District Attorney Swern said, "District Attorney Charles J. Hynes applauds the Governor for his proposal to expand the DNA Databank. A more complete databank will finally allow New York State to fully realize the scientific potential to protect the innocent and hold the guilty accountable. Public safety demands no less."
New York State has yet to realize the full potential of the DNA Databank because state law only permits DNA to be collected from 48 percent of offenders convicted of a Penal Law crime. Currently, anyone convicted of a felony or one of 36 misdemeanors under the Penal Law must provide a DNA sample.
The Governor's proposal would require DNA samples to be collected from anyone convicted of all remaining Penal Law misdemeanors and any felony under other state laws, such as felony driving while intoxicated under the Vehicle and Traffic Law, aggravated animal cruelty under the Agriculture and Markets Law, and prescription drug offenses under the Public Health Law.
The Databank was created in 1996. Since that time, DNA evidence has helped prosecutors solve more than 2,700 crimes and has helped exonerate 27 New Yorkers.
New York State's Deputy Secretary for Public Safety Elizabeth Glazer said, "Every day we wait to expand the state's DNA Databank, another cold case goes unresolved, a person wrongly convicted sits in prison, and we risk one of our loved ones falling victim to a crime that could have been prevented. How do we know this? Because we have evidence that shows every time we expanded the Databank, we solved more crimes. It's just that simple."
The last expansion in 2006, which made some misdemeanors DNA-eligible, showed that criminals do not specialize. Today's low-level offender is often yesterday's violent felon:
- DNA samples taken from individuals convicted of the misdemeanor crime of petit larceny have been linked to 965 crimes, including 51 murders, 222 sexual assaults, 117 robberies, and 407 burglaries.
- And DNA samples taken from individuals convicted of second-degree criminal trespass have been linked to 30 homicides, 110 sexual assaults and 121 burglaries, among other crimes.
Data from the state Division of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS) also shows that offenders linked to crimes through the DNA Databank had three prior convictions for non-DNA eligible offenses before they were convicted of offenses that required DNA samples. Many low-level, non-DNA eligible misdemeanors are precursors to violent crime:
- 27 percent of individuals convicted of unauthorized use of a vehicle are subsequently arrested for a violent felony offense within five years of the misdemeanor conviction.
- 21 percent of individuals convicted of three other misdemeanors – third-degree criminal trespass, fourth-degree criminal mischief and theft of services – also are subsequently arrested for a violent felony offense within five years of being convicted of one of those crimes.
Ann M. said, "For more than 10 years my daughter lived with the fear that the monster who raped, cut, robbed, and terrorized her in her own bedroom would return because he was free, roaming the streets. My husband and I installed an alarm system, motion detector lights, and security doors, but they did nothing to allay her terror. Her attacker went on to rape others and was only caught after New York State finally allowed DNA to be collected from people convicted of petit larceny. How many more serial rapists are we allowing to roam the streets of New York, for no other reason than we have not expanded our DNA Databank? I beg the Legislature to do the right thing and encourage the public to urge their elected officials to support the Governor's proposal because what happened to my daughter can happen to anyone's child."
Natasha S. Alexenko said, "My rapist is a serial criminal who is no longer victimizing people thanks to a DNA match. Collecting DNA from all convicted criminal defendants will be instrumental in preventing the needless suffering of crime victims, such as myself. DNA is a powerful, necessary tool that will help our state's law enforcement officials prevent future crimes and resolve pending cases."
Tynetta Megginson said, "Expanding the use of New York's DNA Databank will help victims and families of violent crime survivors heal. It will also prevent other New Yorkers from becoming victims of crime."
Ariel Zwang said, "For many of our clients, an important part of the healing process is knowing that the person who harmed them has been brought to justice and that the right person has been convicted. The All Crimes DNA bill is a powerful tool in finding justice for survivors of crime, and in preventing our family members, friends and neighbors from experiencing violence. On behalf of the 250,000 victims of crime and abuse whom we support each year, we urge the legislature to vote to expand New York's DNA Databank."
Mariska Hargitay, Founder and President of the Joyful Heart Foundation, said, "At the Joyful Heart Foundation, we have witnessed the healing power that justice can bring to survivors of sexual violence. Expanding the DNA Databank to include samples from offenders convicted of all felony crimes and every penal law misdemeanor will ensure that more perpetrators are held accountable for their crimes, thousands of New Yorkers are spared the trauma of violence and survivors receive the justice they deserve. We urge the New York State Assembly to join the Senate and Governor Cuomo in the movement to use DNA to its fullest potential."
Susan Xenarios said, "For the past 35 years, the Crime Victims Treatment Center of St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital has provided services to tens of thousands of victims of crime. We know that part of the healing process for victims includes finding justice. The expansion of the DNA Databank to include all crimes post-conviction will bring greater justice to crime victims. Over the last decade, the use of DNA technology in solving crimes has proven to be a powerful and non-discriminatory investigative tool in convicting the guilty. Equally important, this technology protects those who are innocent. But most importantly, the DNA technology and the expansion of the DNA Databank will bring justice and healing to victims, their families and to our communities."
Taking a DNA sample is not an invasive process: convicted offenders rub the inside of their cheek with a swab. The New York State Police Forensic Investigation Center then converts that material into a numerical profile, specifically unique to that offender. The profile is only used to match convicted offenders to evidence found at a crime scene, and link crimes that may involve the same perpetrator. The profile cannot be used for any other purpose and cannot identify anything about a person's race, appearance, health or behavior.
The process in which DNA profiles are uploaded, tested and matched to convicted offenders ensures that nothing, other than science, affects the outcome of a match. Names, photographs or criminal history records that correspond to the DNA profiles are not maintained in the Databank, and DCJS, the agency confirming the identity once a match has been made, does not have access to the DNA profiles maintained in the Databank. Also, once a DNA match has been made, confirmatory testing is done to ensure its accuracy before local labs and law enforcement personnel are notified.
The New York State Police Forensic Investigation Center in Albany can process 10,000 DNA samples from convicted offenders a month. The Governor's proposed expansion will bring the monthly total to less than 7,000 and will not create a backlog.
If enacted, the Governor' proposal would take effect October 1, 2012, and it would not be retroactive. In addition, the proposal would not apply to children involved in Family Court matters or to youthful offenders.
New York State has launched an interactive website as part of the Governor's campaign to build a new New York and keep residents informed about key state initiatives. For more information, visit www.NYGetInvolved.com and join the #DNAStopsCrime conversation.