June 11, 2009

Silver, Lentol Announce Passage Of DNA-Innocence Measure To Assist Police And Prevent Wrongful Convictions

In an effort to strengthen the investigative abilities of law enforcement agencies throughout New York, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Codes Committee Chair Joseph Lentol today announced the passage of legislation (A.6528/Lentol,Silver) that would protect innocent people from being wrongfully convicted while expanding the state's criminal DNA database to include samples from all persons convicted of a penal law crime.

The legislation includes guidelines for DNA sampling, establishes important privacy safeguards to prevent wrongful convictions, and provides remedies for those who have been wrongly convicted.

The bill would establish the Commission on the Integrity of the Criminal Justice System, empowered to investigate allegations that innocent people were wrongfully convicted of criminal offenses. The commission, to be comprised of appointees from the governor and legislative leaders, would have the power to issue subpoenas, as well as seek testimony from witnesses involved in a criminal case.

Under the legislation all individuals convicted of a penal law misdemeanor would be required to submit a DNA sample, which would be included in the state and federal DNA conviction databases. The legislation expands current DNA sampling.

The bill also establishes a statutory procedure by which prosecutors may indict based on a DNA profile, where a suspect has not been identified. This would prevent open cases from going "cold".

"Advancements in DNA technology and identification procedures have been invaluable to police agencies and law enforcement," said Silver (D-Manhattan). "Enlarging the DNA databank will help police and prosecutors in New York solve crimes. At the same time, this bill addresses the privacy interests of persons voluntarily submitting a DNA sample consistent with the presumption of innocence upon which our criminal justice system is built. Further, this legislation provides for an examination of wrongful convictions through a commission to pinpoint mistakes or misconduct resulting in wrongful conviction."

"The guidelines the Assembly passed are essential to a comprehensive, effective DNA system," said Lentol (D-Brooklyn) "Our legislation improves upon our use of DNA evidence and will go a long way towards protecting against wrongful convictions. We can and should assist enforcement while at the same time uphold the rights of innocent persons."

DNA evidence has aided in the exoneration of New Yorkers convicted of crimes. While wrongfully convicted inmates have lost years of their lives serving prison time for crimes they did not commit, the actual perpetrators have remained free. The legislation is aimed at preventing wrongful convictions and helping law enforcement agencies identify persons responsible for crimes.

In addition, the bill: