District Attorneys, Sheriffs and Chiefs Join with Parents of a Murder Victim to Discuss how Expansion will Better Protect New Yorkers
Albany, NY (February 16, 2012)
Lieutenant Governor Robert J. Duffy today joined with Ontario County District Attorney R. Michael Tantillo, Ontario County Sheriff Philip C. Povero and their law enforcement colleagues throughout the Finger Lakes – Acting District Attorney Eric R. Schiener and Sheriff John M. York from Livingston County, District Attorney Barry L. Porsch and Sheriff Jack S. Stenberg from Seneca County, District Attorney Richard Healy and Sheriff Barry Virts from Wayne County, and District Attorney Jason L. Cook and Sheriff Ronald G. Spike from Yates County – 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 also was joined at a press conference in Canandaigua by City Police Chief Jonathan Welch, Geneva Police Chief Jeffrey Trickler and Canandaigua residents David and Ann Scoville, whose daughter, Patricia, was murdered in Vermont in 1991. At the time of Patricia's murder, Vermont did not have a DNA database. The Scovilles spent the next seven years keeping their daughter's case in the public eye and successfully advocated for the creation of that state's database in 1998.
DNA evidence ultimately led police to Patricia's killer, a parolee who was convicted after trial in 2008 and is now serving a life sentence. The Vermont Crime Laboratory's DNA lab is named in Patricia Scoville's memory.
"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."
David and Ann Scoville said: "As long-time advocates of DNA legislation in New York State and elsewhere, we applaud the efforts of Governor Cuomo and others to further expand the DNA Databank to include a greater number of felony and misdemeanor crimes. We continue to feel a sense of pride that New York State has been on the forefront of forensic DNA collection and technology. The DNA Databank continues to identify criminals, continues to exonerate falsely convicted criminals, and continues to protect the individual rights of citizens from wrongful uses of DNA."
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.
District Attorney Tantillo said: "The importance of enacting this proposal cannot be overemphasized. Based upon our past experience, we know for a certainty that if the Governor's proposal becomes law, more crimes will be solved, even more crimes will be prevented, and, equally importantly, people who may be suspected of committing crimes but who are actually innocent will be quickly cleared."
Added Sheriff Povero: "This is no-brainer. The Governor's all-crimes DNA proposal will save lives. Simply put, it will allow law enforcement to better protect its citizens."
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.
Acting District Attorney Schiener said: "Popular television programs may give the impression that DNA is only an effective crime-solving tool in big cities with big departments and big budgets, but the reality is that DNA evidence is solving crimes everywhere and taking career criminals off the streets whether they be city thoroughfares or country roads. DNA evidence is also ensuring fairness in the criminal justice system by clearing suspects at the earliest stages of an investigation. Expansion of New York's DNA Databank will have an immediate positive impact on victims' lives and on the safety of our communities, including those in Livingston County. For these reasons and many more, I wholeheartedly support Governor Cuomo's cost-effective proposal to add approximately 400 additional crimes for collection and inclusion in the DNA Databank."
Added Sheriff York, who also serves as chairman of the executive committee of the New York State Sheriffs' Association: "We applaud the Governor in his efforts to expand the DNA Databank to include all Penal Law misdemeanors and other felonies. It is a proven technology that not only gives justice to the victims of crime but excludes the innocent of possible prosecution of crimes."
District Attorney Healy said: "I strongly urge the Legislature to support the Governor's proposal. In the past year, we have successfully prosecuted a number of burglaries where the perpetrator left his DNA in blood at the crime scene. The most important function of government is to protect its citizens: DNA solves crimes. Solving crimes protects citizens by making our communities safer."
Added District Attorney Porsch: "In Seneca County, we are continuing to investigate the death of Kristin O'Connell, a 20-year-old college student found brutally murdered in a cornfield on August 15, 1985. Had all-crimes DNA legislation been enacted years ago, the case might have been solved by now. With the passage of the Governor's proposal to expand the Databank, we hope to solve open cases as well as prevent future crimes. There is no rational reason why this proposal should not be passed."
District Attorney Cook said: "This is a very simple issue and the state Legislature should do the right thing. At a time when the latest technology can help solve crimes and take dangerous criminals off the streets, New Yorkers deserve to be safe in their homes and on the streets. Public safety should take precedence over the usual political posturing."
Added Sheriff Spike: "I fully support Governor Cuomo's all crime DNA collection initiative from those convicted of crimes. Its proven value to public safety is enormous, not only for convicting the guilty, but for exonerating the innocent. It will save countless hours and costs on police investigations."
Canandaigua Police Chief Welch said: "DNA evidence is another piece of the puzzle that allows police departments to solve and prevent crime, and also can help exonerate those who have been wrongly accused or convicted of a crime they didn't commit. It is a powerful tool and one that complements – but doesn't replace – good, thorough police work. I commend the Governor for his proposal."
Added Geneva Police Chief Trickler: "In the past two decades, the use of DNA evidence has revolutionized police work in the same way that fingerprints did a century before. The Governor's proposal to expand the state's DNA Databank will allow law enforcement to use this tool to its fullest potential. I am proud to stand together with my colleagues in law enforcement to support this important measure."
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 made some low-level 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 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.