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Letter: Think Through Expanding Database (The Saratogian)

To the Editor:

District attorneys like to portray DNA evidence as infallible, but the real world doesn’t unfold like a CSI episode. In truth, DNA evidence is highly susceptible to human error, fraud and abuse. Lawmakers must address this reality before they expand the state’s DNA databank.

There’s been a series of scandals in recent years involving forensic crime labs in New York state and nationwide. In 2009, the National Academy of Sciences issued a sweeping critique of the nation’s crime labs, observing that forensic scientists “sometimes face pressure to sacrifice appropriate methodology for the sake of expediency.”

The state’s Inspector General published a report in 2010 that concluded a forensic analyst with the New York State Police crime lab had falsified test results over a 15-year period. The Inspector General’s office exposed a similar problem in the NYPD’s crime lab. Nassau County’s crime lab was shut down last year due to widespread testing mistakes and rampant dysfunction.

Given this troubled history, lawmakers must not approve the proposed expansion, which would add hundreds of thousands of samples to the DNA databank annually, without first establishing quality assurance protocols to guard against mistakes and abuse. To do otherwise would endanger basic constitutional rights and compromise the integrity of our state’s criminal justice system.

Melanie Trimble, Director of the New York Civil liberties Union Capital Region Chapter

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