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Expanding database is sensible

″DNA is the fingerprint of the 21st century,″ Gov. George Pataki aptly stated this week in directing the state to expand its DNA database to the extent allowed by law

Dec 8, 2005 |

The sooner the commission hammers out the details of implementing that expansion, the better and Murphy could not agree more.

And let's not stop there.

The state Assembly should get on board with the governor's proposed legislation that would further expand the crimes for which a convict's DNA may be collected, and would eliminate the statute of limitations on sex crimes and other felonies.

As many as 40,000 profiles could be added to New York's 200,000-person DNA database over the next year just be going as far as the law currently allows. Expanding the law to include DNA collections with every misdemeanor arrest would add thousands more.

It may sound excessive from a cost versus value standpoint to collect DNA from every convicted criminal, regardless of the crime, as supported by the governor and Senate. But the commission convincingly points out that DNA on file for a misdemeanor could become evidence to identify a suspect in a subsequent, more serious crime.

Worth special notice is Pataki's proposal to stop the clock on five-year statutes of limitations when DNA turns up to link someone to a long-past felony.

DNA databases ought to be available on a federal level. Criminals cross state lines, but the laws and availability of data vary from state to state. The current attempted abduction case in Saratoga Springs is a prime example: the defendant is considered a possible suspect in other crimes.

Just last week, the U.S. Court of Appeals upheld the constitutionality of the state's DNA databank. And just the other day, a former Schenectady man admitted to killings after being linked to those crimes - and being connected to the rape of an 85-year-old woman - as a result of DNA.

"It's absolutely amazing and breathtaking that a small bit of genetic material left at a crime scene can ultimately solve a case in the absence of any other proof and no witnesses," Albany County Assistant District Attorney Michael McDermott said in an Associated Press report Saturday.

Since the state's DNA databank started in 1996, it has been expanded twice in 1999 to include violent felony offenses and in 2004 to include some misdemeanors. According to the Pataki's office, since April 2000 there have been 2,209 "hits" linking offenders to 3,473 crimes; more than 1,600 of those hits were a result of those two expansions. The governor's office is careful to differentiate between "hits" and actual new convictions, since many cases are pending. But the availability of the database has clearly improved the ability of law enforcers to pursue and prosecute cases.

Yet more than half of the people convicted of felonies in New York are not required to supply DNA. Forty-three other states are doing better, requiring DNA from all convicted felons. Eighteen require DNA from anyone convicted of a misdemeanor. Thirty-one require DNA from juvenile offenders.

There is room to expand the crimes that included in the law. And statutes of limitations should not be applied when DNA can be used to solve a crime.

DNA can help to exonerate a person, too, and doing so is also part of the Pataki's proposed legislation.
The science exists to help police, prosecutors and defense attorneys do their jobs. Let's use it.

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