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New York State to Expand DNA Database

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The New York State Senate passed a bill that will expand the state’s DNA database for convicted criminals.

Previously, the state required that DNA be collected from those convicted of felonies and certain misdemeanors. In a bill passed last month, DNA will be now be collected from all convicted criminals, regardless of the offense.

Proponents of the bill state that it can help aid in the prevention of serious crimes, such as in the case of Raymond McGill. After McGill was arrested for attempted robbery, he was linked to a rape and two murders. Some argue that if DNA had been taken after he committed a robbery many years ago, he would have been linked to the rape, which occurred before the murders and could have stopped McGill from taking two lives.

Democrats in the State Senate want to approve the measure only if it includes a provision to give defendants easy access to an expanded database in order to aid in their cases.

Governor Andrew Cuomo called the bill “an important step in protecting New Yorkers and modernizing the state’s criminal justice system.”

Despite the potential positive impact of the bill, there is concern about the openness of prosecutors in allowing access to the database.

 According to the New York Times,

While there are provisions in state law allowing judges, at a defendant’s request, to require DNA testing of evidence, some lawmakers and defense lawyers say that defendants have not been allowed to gain access to the DNA database without the consent of prosecutors.

“District attorneys should not be hiding evidence, and judges should have the ability to order access to the database to prove innocence as well as guilt,” Michael Whyland, the spokesman for the Assembly speaker, Sheldon Silver, said in a statement.

Barry Scheck, founder of the Innocence Project, is not convinced that the bill truly demonstrates an effort to prevent wrongful convictions. Measures such as requiring that interrogations be videotaped and changing the ways that eyewitnesses are identified would have far more impact, he says.

“Less than 10 percent of serious felony cases have any biological evidence in them, which can identify the real perpetrator with a DNA test. And most of the serious offenders are already in the DNA database. This isn’t the No. 1 priority.”

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