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Letter: Why Taking DNA Samples of Arrestees is Not a Good Idea (The Daily Gazette)

To the editor:

Your May 6 editorial, “Take DNA from arrestees, too,” gives short shrift to the risks related to the expansion of the state’s DNA databank.

Expanding the databank to include arrestees would drastically increase the potential for abuse and errors that could convict the innocent while allowing the guilty to roam free. It also would override the presumption of innocence, a cornerstone of our criminal justice system.

DNA evidence is a powerful forensic tool — under optimum circumstances. However, contrary to television depictions, DNA evidence is fallible. It’s well documented that mistakes and abuse occur in the collection, analysis and storage of DNA. On May 3, The Los Angeles Times published a news account showing that prosecutors often misrepresent the reliability of DNA evidence to jurors — a national problem, according to the article.

If this isn’t enough reason for concern, New York lacks adequate quality controls to protect against the corruption of the databank. The state has not undertaken a single study to test the effectiveness of DNA in solving crimes.

Lawmakers have much to learn about the use of forensic DNA before expanding the database with samples from tens of thousands of individuals who have not been convicted of any wrongdoing.

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

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