March 23, 2012

New York Becomes First State to Adopt All-Crimes DNA Database

New York State has broken new ground in the ongoing debates over the scope of DNA collection for state forensic databases: who must submit DNA? New York has now become the first state to implement an all-crimes DNA database, where anyone convicted of a crime, whether felony or misdemeanor, is now required to submit a DNA sample to the state database. Previously, the NYS database, established in 1996, only included those convicted of all felonies and some sex crime misdemeanors; the new legislation now targets all convicted individuals. The underlying theory supporting database expansion was articulated by co-sponsor State Senator Steve Saland: "The DNA databank expansion is particularly critical when studies show that persons who commit serious crimes have also often committed other crimes including lower-level misdemeanors." The legislation contains further provisions that expand post-conviction DNA testing for some criminal defendants. For nationwide legislative tracking, see here. Of concern is whether the expansion would contribute to any backlog in the processing of DNA evidence’ at least for now, the governor’s office does not believe that it will. The nationwide backlogs in the processing of DNA evidence are well-documented, particularly from the rape kits collected from rape victims; the federal government has intervened to clear out the backlog by providing funds for state laboratories. Since 2006, Congress has allocated $785 million to help state and local crime laboratories clear up unprocessed DNA samples and reduce existing backlogs. Without continued federal funding to assist local laboratories, many legislative expansions of DNA collection could lead to increased backlogs. Now that New York has instituted the all-crimes database, other states are likely to follow suit. In addition, legal debates continue regarding the expansion of DNA collection to arrestees (here is an earlier report regarding the expansion of DNA collection in New Jersey; here is a report on the recent 9th Circuit ruling that upheld the inclusion of arrestees in the California DNA database against a 4th Amendment constitutional challenge).

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