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NYCLU Criticizes Mayor’s Call To Expand State’s DNA Database

The NYCLU today criticized Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s recommendation that the New York State Legislature require all convicted criminals to provide DNA samples for inclusion in the state’s DNA database.

“The mayor’s comments are based on the notion that DNA is the ‘gold standard’ of forensic science, but this reflects a misunderstanding of the science and good law enforcement practice,” said Donna Lieberman, NYCLU Executive Director. “In reality, errors occur in every aspect of DNA the law-enforcement process: collection, analysis, and reporting. These errors have resulted in the conviction and incarceration of innocent people. Before we start taking DNA from every person convicted of trespassing, shoplifting, or vandalism, we must address the lack of regulatory procedures to protect against wrongful convictions and incarcerations.”

In the past five years the use of DNA by law enforcement has come under increasing scrutiny by critics who have documented cases in which the use of DNA has been subject to gross negligence and intentional abuse. The Houston Police Department closed its DNA lab in 2003 after it released from prison two men who had been falsely incriminated by faulty lab work. In 2004, a Seattle Post-Intelligencer report documented 23 errors that the Washington State Patrol laboratory had made in the investigations of serious crimes.

The NYCLU also expressed concern about the inefficiency that database expansion would introduce.

“The idea that a bigger database is a better database is simply wrong,” said Robert Perry, NYCLU Legislative Director. “Experience from other jurisdictions shows that the proposed expansion of the DNA database would come at enormous cost, diverting police resources from seeking more reliable evidence of criminal wrongdoing.”

The NYCLU added that the state’s existing scheme of regulating the use of DNA is flawed, citing as an example the proliferation around the state of “rogue databases” that operated outside the law. Local medical examiners have been including in these databases DNA samples from persons who have not been convicted of crimes.

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