Officials Will Discuss How Expansion Will Better Protect New Yorkers
(February 8, 2012)
Lieutenant Governor Robert J. Duffy today joined with Rockland County District Attorney Thomas P. Zugibe, Rockland County Sheriff Louis Falco III and Piermont Chief Michael T. O'Shea, president of the Rockland County Chiefs' Association, 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 law enforcement leaders were joined by other members of the Rockland Police Chiefs' Association at a press conference at the Rockland County Fire Training Center in Pomona.
"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 Zugibe said, "Requiring defendants to submit DNA to the state's Databank has proven time and again to help swiftly identify criminal offenders. Its effectiveness as a law enforcement tool will only be heightened by allowing DNA samples to be taken for all convictions. Moreover, an expanded DNA law will bring a measure of justice for victims and will help to exonerate the innocent. I urge our state lawmakers to support this important measure, which allows us to convict the guilty with certainty and keep our residents safe."
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.
Sheriff Falco said, "As Sheriff, I am committed to giving my officers the resources they need to do the job they were sworn to do: serve and protect the residents of Rockland County. An expanded DNA Databank will allow my officers to do their jobs more effectively, and that means more crimes will be solved, other crimes will be prevented and our county will be a safer place to live."
Chief O'Shea said, "The Police Chiefs Association strongly supports the all crimes DNA proposal. There is no downside to this. It will safeguard our citizens and improve the effectiveness of our law enforcement investigations. We applaud the Governor for making all crimes DNA a priority."
The Databank was created in 1996. Since that time, DNA evidence has helped prosecutors solve more than 2,700 crimes – including 18 in Rockland County – and has helped exonerate 27 New Yorkers.
In 2005, the Victory Assembly Full Gospel Church in Thiells was burglarized, and a keyboard, sound system and petty cash were stolen from the small, 20-member congregation. DNA from cigarette butts and paper cups led authorities Anthony Mann, who later pleaded guilty to the crime and is serving a state prison sentence.
Church Pastor Larry Davis said, "It was devastating to see the church in such disarray. We lost things we really cherished and needed. I was really surprised when they told me they had a hit on the DNA from the items the burglar left behind, three years after the crime occurred. It meant a lot to the congregation that the police and DA didn't give up on the case. It gave us all a sense that they were really looking out for us."
New York'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 for the first time 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.
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 Oct. 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.