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Queens Chronicle

Bill pits personal liberty against public security

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Posted: Thursday, June 3, 2010 12:00 am

Gov. David Paterson announced on June 1 that he is submitting legislation requiring anyone convicted of any penal law crime to provide a DNA sample.

Current legislation only requires that felony and some misdemeanor offenders submit DNA, and no juveniles are ever required to give it.

The proposed bill would include juvenile offenders and all sex offenders as well.

“It is a great idea,” Assemblyman Mike Gianaris (D-Astoria) said. “DNA is a proven crime fighting tool.”

New York Civil Liberties Union Executive Director Donna Lieberman and some Queens lawmakers disagree.

“DNA is the most sensitive and personal information that the government can collect. DNA reveals your genetic abnormalities, your disposition to disease and all of the vulnerable characteristics you have inherited. Imagine what could happen if that personal information got into the wrong hands. It could destroy your life,” Lieberman said in an email.

According to the state Division of Criminal Justice Services, the bill would call for 200 misdemeanors and 100 felonies that do not currently require DNA testing to begin legally demanding it.

Stalking, some drug charges, some prostitution charges, and promoting prison contraband are included in the 300 crimes that would newly call for DNA testing.

Paterson said the measure would result in an expense of $400,000 this year and roughly $1.57 million annually.

Queens District Attorney Richard Brown supports the proposal’s expansion of the DNA requirements. He said in a statement that the cost of omitting so many crimes from the databank is that violent criminals can escape identification more easily.

But state Assemblyman William Scarborough (D- Jamaica), who was not aware of the proposal until called on Monday by the Chronicle, differs.

“It is a diminution of privacy rights,” Scarborough said, adding that he has seen no indication of a need to expand DNA testing at all. He said there must be proof of positive qualitative and quantitative effects that the change would bring before it is passed.

Richard Aborn, president of the Citizens Crime Commission, said in a statement that to not take a criminal’s DNA when it is so readily available is like not bothering to fingerprint him.

DNA testing can also provide evidence that favors defendants. According to The Innocence Project, 254 people have been exonerated due to DNA testing and 26 of those cases were in New York. As of this April, the FBI has 29,483 DNA samples from New York alone.

But Paterson cited the case of Raymon McGill, a killer who had been convicted of several crimes that didn’t require him to have his DNA taken.

After those several offenses he was convicted of a larger offense that did require his DNA to be collected. With his newly collected DNA, he was linked to the rape of an 85-year-old woman and the murders of two other elderly people.

Paterson said that had McGill’s DNA been collected after his minor offenses, he could have been stopped before committing the killings.

Lieberman noted the possibility of inaccuracies in DNA testing and the immense increase in work it would give to crime laboratories.

“Laboratories do not have the funding they need to take on this expanded responsibility,” she wrote.

The sponsors of the bill have not yet been identified and there is no set timeframe for when it may or may not be passed.

Welcome to the discussion.