Assemblyman Philip Ramos (D-Central Islip) announced Assembly passage of comprehensive legislation he supported requiring DNA samples from those convicted of all misdemeanors, allowing for indictments of unknown assailants, and instituting measures to protect the innocent (A.8693).
“Every common-sense step should be taken to protect the public’s safety,” Ramos said. “Requiring DNA samples from everyone convicted of a misdemeanor will give law enforcement a more accurate means of identifying criminals. As a former police detective, I know the power that DNA evidence can have in convicting those who are guilty, and it’s essential we give authorities every possible tool – while still protecting the rights of the innocent.”
Included in the legislation is a provision to ensure prosecutors can indict unnamed suspects identified solely by DNA evidence left at crime scenes. These “John Doe” indictments stop the clock on the statute of limitations and assure full prosecution when the criminal is caught.
“‘John Doe’ indictments give law enforcement officials all the time they need to solve crimes,” Ramos said. “DNA is powerful evidence that makes the statute of limitations irrelevant. We need to show everyone we are serious about pursuing every means in identifying those who break the law.”
In addition the Assembly proposal would help establish statewide rules and standards for preserving and storing evidence, while the Senate proposal would only create “voluntary guidelines.”
Protecting the innocent
The Assembly recently held a public hearing to discuss reducing instances of wrongful convictions and expanding the statewide DNA database. Speaking at the hearing were four New Yorkers recently exonerated by DNA evidence after serving a combined 63 years in prison for crimes they didn’t commit. With their tragic experiences in mind, the Assembly legislation was crafted with provisions to curb the tragedy of wrongful convictions. The bill:
- gives the state Commission on Forensic Science more power to review and issue guidelines for the inclusion of biological evidence into the state’s DNA database;
- creates the bipartisan Commission for the Integrity of the Criminal Justice System, which will examine wrongful convictions revealed by DNA – and will have subpoena power to get to the bottom of cases;
- establishes a DNA Evidence Fund, which will help police labs process DNA evidence to convict the guilty and also support efforts to exonerate those wrongly convicted; and
- requires that police station interrogations of suspects be videotaped to help assure accurate convictions.
“Only criminals benefit when the wrong person is convicted, and they remain a continuing threat to society while they are free on the streets,” Ramos said. “This legislation strikes a necessary balance between expanded use of DNA evidence to apprehend and convict the guilty, and common sense measures to protect the privacy of innocent New Yorkers and identify wrongful convictions.”
The bill builds on a law passed last year that expanded the state’s criminal DNA database to include anyone convicted of a felony and 18 key misdemeanors (Ch. 2 of 2006).
“With more criminals’ DNA in the state’s database, police will be able to solve more crimes and put dangerous people behind bars,” Ramos said. “At the same time, we’re taking this opportunity to address the tragic wrongful conviction cases that ruin innocent lives. With the help of the Senate and Governor Spitzer, New York State can build the largest DNA database in the nation, and help protect those who have been wrongfully accused of crimes.”