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Letter: DNA Databank Lacks Safeguards (Journal News)

To the Editor:

Under optimal circumstances, DNA evidence is a precise law enforcement tool. Unfortunately, the circumstances aren’t always optimal. Research shows that DNA evidence is highly susceptible to human error, fraud and abuse. Without proper oversight, this leads to innocent people being imprisoned.

Consider a recent case in Las Vegas in which a mix-up of DNA samples led to a teenager being wrongfully convicted of a robbery. The mistake cost the young man four years in prison.

There is reason for concern here in New York. The New York Commission on Investigation has identified a number of flaws in oversight of the DNA databank: an increasing risk of contaminated samples, concerns about the lack of funds to hire qualified forensic analysts, and inadequate statewide standards for the collection and handling of DNA evidence.

The state’s databank has been expanded numerous times since 1995 without any discussion about regulatory oversight. Now lawmakers are poised to approve a massive expansion that would add tens of thousands of genetic samples annually, exponentially increasing the potential for error and abuse. Any expansion must include more robust standards of accountability. Without effective safeguards, a massive expansion of the DNA databank will lead to flawed prosecutions and miscarriages of justice.

Linda Berns, Director of the New York Civil Liberties Union Lower Hudson Valley Chapter

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