State Appears Ready to Approve Expansive DNA Database

The New York State Legislature appears ready to approve the DNA database bill that would collect samples from everyone convicted of a crime in the state - one of the most ambitious such projects in the U.S.

Governor Andrew Cuomo and lawmakers were still negotiating Tuesday, but the bill is expected to be in the final budget, which is due on April 1. It would expand the current database to include DNA samples from anyone convicted of any felony or penal law misdemeanor.

“The importance of this is in the details, and we haven’t ironed out those yet,” Joseph Lentol, chief sponsor of the bill in the Assembly, said Tuesday.

The Republican-controlled state Senate passed the DNA Databank Expansion bill in January, but the Lentol bill aimed to add several additional items. Namely, it wanted to guarantee convicted defendants’ greater access to the database, require videotaping of police interrogations and make advances in eyewitness identification. Those were meant to ensure that conviction of the guilty but also exoneration of the innocent.

Similar proposals have been championed by the Chief Judge of New York state, Jonathan Lippman, and some civil rights advocates.

Lentol said all those items were still up for negotiations, but that it seemed likely some, such as videotaped police interrogations, would not find their way into the bill.

“It’s more likely than not that some of the things that I want will drop out of a compromise,” Lentol said.

Cuomo has made the DNA database expansion one of his top priorities this year, and the initiative has been backed by all county District Attorneys, sheriffs and more than 400 state police chiefs.

Stephen Saloom, policy director of the Innocence Project, an organization dedicated to exonerating wrongfully convicted people, in an interview with WNYC last month, said the Legislature’s efforts were not rightly focused.

“Expanding the DNA database to capture the DNA of everyone who commits even the lowest level crime in New York state is just not what the priority should be right now,” Saloom said. “We really need wrongful conviction reform.”