A reported deal over legislation that would allow the police to collect a genetic sample of every person convicted of any crime was dismissed today by the leadership of the New York Civil Liberties Union as an invitation for error, fraud and abuse.
“The politics of forensic DNA are way ahead good science and public policy,” said NYCLU Legislative Director Robert Perry. “This deal is long on collection of DNA samples and short on justice, fairness and the integrity of state crime labs.”
For weeks, the governor and the Assembly have been in deliberations regarding an unprecedented expansion to the state’s DNA databank, already passed by the Senate. The police can already take DNA from people convicted of violent crimes – even low-level misdemeanors. It is estimated that the proposed legislation would require the processing of tens of thousands of additional DNA samples annually.
The state has repeatedly expanded the DNA databank since it was established in 1996, but there has been little if any effort to enhance regulatory oversight. Absent more effective oversight, the NYCLU and other advocates warn, the proposed massive expansion of the DNA databank greatly increases the potential for mistakes, flawed prosecutions and wrongful convictions.
“It is well documented that human error, and worse, routinely enters into the use of forensic DNA and yet New York has not taken the steps necessary to provide adequate oversight and accountability over its DNA databank,” said NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman. “Life is not a CSI episode. DNA evidence is highly susceptible to human error, fraud and abuse. A massive expansion of New York’s DNA databank without adequate safeguards will increase mistakes and lead to flawed prosecutions.”
According to the NYCLU, any expansion to New York’s DNA databank should include:
- Effective oversight and accountability to ensure the integrity of the DNA databank by creating an independent expert task force charged with (1) analyzing policies and practices related to the collection, analysis, storage and use of forensic DNA based upon authoritative scientific and legal research; and (2) proposing a reconstituted Commission on Forensic Sciences that has the authority, independence and resources to provide rigorous oversight of forensic labs.
- Mechanisms that provide individuals charged or convicted of a crime access to DNA and other forensic evidence for the purpose of proving their innocence.
o Authorize judges to order comparisons of DNA evidence and fingerprints obtained at a crime scene with DNA and fingerprint databases.
o Establish mandates and procedures for the preservation of crime-scene evidence.
- A reform of law enforcement practices to prevent mistaken eye-witness identification and false confessions.
o Require video recordings of persons interrogated while in police custody.
o Mandate adoption of best-practice eye-witness identification procedures.