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Hynes v. Leventhal/People v. Rodriguez (Challenging NYC medical examiner’s DNA databank)

This case raises the issue as to whether a DNA databank that is maintained by the New York City Office of the Chief Medical Examiner is inconsistent with state law and policy and is therefore unlawful. The Chief Medical Examiner of New York City maintains a “Linkage Database,” comprised of samples of DNA taken from arrestees and from suspects, bystanders at a crime scene and anyone else that the police ask to provide a biological specimen as a means of exonerating themselves. Under the practices of the Medical Examiner, the DNA remains in the “Linkage Database” even after DNA testing excludes these individuals from suspicion. The Medical Examiner has no policy, procedure or rules for purging profiles from the “Linkage Database,” and the Office of the Medical Examiner maintains that it may use the DNA in any way that it sees fit.

The case of People v. Rodriguez ,193 Misc. 2d. 725 (Supreme Court, Kings County, 2002), was a criminal case in which the defendant was accused of assaulting, sodomizing, and raping his girlfriend. The defendant agreed to provide a blood sample for DNA testing subject to a protective order that would prohibit the plaintiffs from using that sample for any other purpose than the current indictment, and therefore from adding the sample to the Medical Examiner’s local database. In ordering that the DNA sample be returned to the defendant, the trial court held that the Medical Examiner’s database violated the confidentiality provision of Executive Law § 995-d. The District Attorney sought to review the trial court’s decision by filing an Article 78 proceeding that asserted that the trial court had exceeded its authorized powers and gone beyond the scope of its jurisdiction. In the Article 78 proceeding, the NYCLU filed an amicus brief with the Innocence Project of Cardozo Law School arguing that although state legislation allows for the databanking of DNA taken from individuals convicted of specified felonies, it also requires the expungement of the DNA taken from individuals who are acquitted or whose conviction is subsequently reversed on appeal or vacated. The NYCLU, therefore, argued that the “Linkage Database” is inconsistent with state law and is thus invalid under state pre-emption doctrine.

The brief further argued that the database violates Fourth Amendment limitations that prohibit seizures beyond the initial purpose for which the seizure took place, and that the database violates Fourteenth Amendment rights of informational privacy and individual autonomy with respect to the use and maintenance of one’s DNA. In a decision rendered on April 1, 2003, the Supreme Court held that the Medical Examiner’s Linkage Database is unauthorized by and inconsistent with state law and it issued the protective order requested by the defendant. 

State Supreme Court, Kings County Indictment No. 3177 (2002), App. Div. 2nd Dept., No. 0020-03 (amicus)

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