The NYCLU today criticized the conclusions that the Governor's Commission of Investigation reached in its report "DNA and the Criminal Justice System." The Commission's report, issued today, recommends that the DNA databank be expanded to include DNA from every person convicted of any crime, felony or misdemeanor.
"The Commission's proposal to expand the database rests on the false premise that DNA always leads us straight to the truth," said Donna Lieberman, Executive Director of the NYCLU. "The reality is that the possibility of error enters into the process at every stage: collection, processing, analysis, and reporting of results. We need to be much more realistic about the fallibility of this supposed truth serum before we start stockpiling samples from every person convicted of shoplifting, graffiti, or trespassing."
History offers examples of the numerous stages at which DNA processing can go wrong. DNA samples have been switched and mislabeled by law enforcement and lab staff, leading to false incriminations in rape cases in Las Vegas, Philadelphia, and San Diego. Samples can be also contaminated by even the smallest trace of another individual's DNA.
The Commission's proposed changes would also eliminate the statute of limitations for prosecution whenever DNA evidence is involved, increasing the likelihood that persons wrongfully accused will be unable to challenge DNA evidence that has been obtained, tested, and processed in an unreliable manner.
"The notion that every petty misdemeanor is a gateway crime to a violent felony is absurd," said Robert Perry, the NYCLU's legislative director. "And yet that is the state's rationale for the massive expansion of its DNA databank. This ambitious DNA databanking initiative is by its very nature inefficient and subject to abuse. There are documented cases of the fraudulent use of crime-scene evidence by cops and criminals. The DNA system envisioned by the Commission on Investigation is highly susceptible to error and corruption."
The NYCLU noted that even the existing database collection system is fraught with unaddressed problems, including the proliferation around the state of "rogue databases," unauthorized DNA databanks created and maintained by local law enforcement agencies and containing DNA samples from persons who have not been convicted of crimes.
"These rogue databases operate outside the law, and yet the state has yet to reign them in," said Art Eisenberg, NYCLU Legal Director. "The state must correct this problem before it considers expanding data collection in any direction."