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Joyful Heart in the News
Cuomo, thronged by crimestoppers, signs DNA bill
In a Red Room packed with sheriffs, police chiefs, victims rights advocates and several district attorneys — Albany County’s David Soares not among them — Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a bill expanding the state’s DNA database to include misdemeanors in addition to felonies. Left out of that list of crimes: first-offense misdemeanor marijuana possession, a crime that Assemblywoman Barbara Clark [corrected] noted scoops up a disproportionate number of black and Latino youths.
“Today we fulfilled the promise of public service,” Cuomo said, noting the years of debate that had gone into the measure.
Senate Republican Leader Dean Skelos praised his fellow GOP members John DeFrancisco, Steve Saland and Marty Golden, who sat next to Cooke in the front row.
“What a great way to start the work week,” said Skelos, adding that the bill puts the state “on the cutting edge.”
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver emphasized the bill’s provisions that grant access to the database and DNA-slathered evidence to certain defendants before and after trial.
The group was joined by “Ann M.,” the Queens mother whose 12-year-old daughter was raped and assaulted by a home invader who years later was caught after being convicted for petit larceny. She repeated that story, and praised Cuomo for not only talking about the issue but achieving results. (Thanking her at the podium, Cuomo inadvertently used the woman’s full last name, which aides asked the press to keep confidential.)
Cuomo then signed the bill at the adjacent table, and then sat as a series of law enforcement officials trooped up to have their photos taken.
Here’s the epic press release:
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo joined by Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver today signed into law a historic bill that makes New York State the first “all crimes DNA” state in the nation, by requiring DNA samples be collected from anyone convicted of a felony or Penal Law misdemeanor. In addition, the new law also significantly expands defendants’ access to DNA testing and comparison both before and after conviction in appropriate circumstances, as well as to discovery after conviction where innocence is claimed.
Governor Cuomo introduced the DNA Databank expansion legislation as a centerpiece of his 2012 legislative agenda.
“I am proud to sign this bill today because this modern law enforcement tool will not only help us solve and prevent crimes but also exonerate the innocent,” said Governor Andrew Cuomo.
“The bottom line is that this is a tool that works, and will make the state safer for all New Yorkers. I thank Majority Leader Skelos, Speaker Silver, Senators Saland and Golden, and Assemblyman Lentol for their leadership on this issue.”
Senate Majority Leader Dean G. Skelos said: “Nothing is more important than ensuring the safety and security of our citizens. Today we are culminating our efforts to enact an all-crimes DNA databank expansion. Senate Republicans championed the creation of the DNA databank 18 years ago, and we successfully pushed to expand it four times, including legislation I sponsored in 2006 to include all felonies and 17 misdemeanors. With Governor Cuomo’s leadership, we are expanding it to include all crimes and enacting an historic criminal justice measure.”
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said, “I am proud to be part of this agreement which positions New York as a leader once again. New York is the first state to enact an all crimes DNA database. When a person is wrongly convicted, the real perpetrator remains free to potentially commit other crimes while an innocent person is unjustly punished. Furthermore, victims are given a false sense of security that the actual perpetrator has been incarcerated. We must now move forward to enact additional reforms that will enhance public safety and ensure that the real perpetrator is caught and that innocent people are not going to prison.”
Senator Steve Saland, who sponsored the legislation, said: “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. This law provides a powerful tool to bring closure to unsolved crimes and prevent further crimes from taking place, while providing a means by which a wrongfully convicted person can be exonerated, or a suspect eliminated. Working together, Governor Cuomo, the Senate, and the Assembly have succeeded in making New York a safer state.”
Senator Martin Golden, a co-sponsor of the legislation, said: “This law will significantly improve New York State’s crime fighting abilities. Through the collection of DNA samples of all persons convicted of felony offenses, and certain misdemeanors, we will help to prevent and solve crimes. By signing this bill into law, Governor Cuomo will add a critical measure of security and safety for all New Yorkers.”
Assemblyman Joseph R. Lentol said, “Expansion of the DNA database, if carefully controlled to guard against wrongful dissemination or misuse, will be a valued investigative tool. At the same time, perhaps the most significant aspect of today’s compromise will prove to be the dramatic and long overdue expansion of a judge’s right to order production and examination of evidence necessary for a fair hearing on the question of guilt or innocence. Property and records which may lead to proof of a wrongful conviction should not lay buried in a file or drawer impervious to review in open court, but unfortunately that all too often has been the case in the past. Today’s reform, thanks to the cooperation of the Governor and our partners in government, will bring sunlight and fairness to court proceedings examining claims of innocence.”
Assemblywoman Barbara Clark said, “The new DNA bill is a major tool for law enforcement personnel to keep New York safe. I think about someone close to me who was a victim of an assault in her home, in which her perpetrator left DNA evidence. This particular perpetrator was involved with the criminal justice system several times prior to this assault and several times after. If his DNA was collected at the onset of his criminality several of his later crimes could have been prevented. I commend the Governor and Assemblyman Lentol for being tough on crime, while exempting those convicted of a misdemeanor for possessing marijuana for the first time (who are disproportionately Black and Latino) from having to provide a DNA sample.”
Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr., said: “DNA collection is one of the most important tools we have to solve crime, prevent crime, and exonerate the innocent. Through the expanded DNA databank, this non-invasive, $30 test will produce leads in thousands of previously unsolved crimes and bring closure to crime victims and their families. I am proud to be here in Albany today with Jessica Reyes, a violent crime survivor and DNA advocate, to celebrate the signing of this life-saving legislation, and thank Governor Cuomo and the state legislature for their leadership on this important criminal justice issue.”
Ann M., mother of a rape survivor said, “By signing this bill today, the Governor and the Legislature are taking the necessary steps to not only solve and prevent violent crimes, but also help other families from the pain my family has suffered over the past decade — pain no parent should ever be forced to suffer. I thank the New York State Senate and Assembly for passing this much needed expansion. In addition, I thank the Governor for keeping his promise to pass this bill and for his dedication to keeping our state safe.”
The agreement includes the following reforms to the criminal justice system:
• “All Crimes DNA” Expansion: This legislation will make New York the first state in the country to expand its DNA databank so dramatically, a reform that promises to solve thousands of crimes and prevent thousands more. Since its launch in 1996, New York State’s DNA Databank has been a powerful tool both for preventing and solving crimes- including more than 2,900 convictions. DNA evidence has helped exonerate 27 New Yorkers who were wrongfully convicted and countless suspects cleared early-on in investigations.
• Previously, state law only permitted DNA to be collected from 48 percent of offenders convicted of a Penal Law crime. Among the exclusions were numerous crimes that statistics have shown to be precursors to violent offenses. As a result, New York State missed important opportunities to prevent needless suffering of crime victims and failed to use a powerful tool that could be used to exonerate the innocent.
• Expanded Access for Certain Criminal Defendants to DNA Testing: This legislation will allow defendants in certain criminal cases to obtain DNA testing prior to trial to demonstrate their innocence. Further, under appropriate circumstances defendants convicted after a guilty plea will be allowed access to such testing. Together, these reforms will help to ensure that innocent defendants are not convicted or, if convicted after a plea, are able to demonstrate their actual innocence.
• Expanded Access to Discovery for Certain Criminal Defendants After Trial: In limited circumstances, defendants will be able to seek discovery of property and other materials to demonstrate their actual innocence after their conviction. Such discovery will provide the court with the evidence necessary to reach a proper decision on a defendant’s motion for such relief.
Westchester County District Attorney Janet DiFiore, President of the New York State District Attorneys’ Association, said, “We live in a technological age and with the expansion of New York State’s DNA Databank, we are capitalizing on the power of DNA as a crime fighting tool. The widening of the sampling pool, advocated by Governor Cuomo and passed by the Legislature, will require DNA samples to be collected from all convicted criminal defendants who are found guilty of all felonies and penal law misdemeanors. The Database expansion will go far in helping our state’s law enforcement prevent future crimes, resolve pending cases and significantly expand defendants’ access to DNA testing to help eliminate wrongful convictions, with the goal of keeping our communities throughout New York State safe.”
Ariel Zwang, Chief Executive Officer of Safe Horizon, the nation’s leading victims’ services agency, said, “On behalf of the more than 250,000 survivors of crime and abuse whose lives we touch each year, Safe Horizon thanks the leadership in Albany for making our State a safer place to live. The expansion of the DNA Databank will be a powerful tool in finding justice for survivors of crime, and in preventing our family members, friends and neighbors from experiencing violence. We are grateful to Governor Cuomo for his unwavering commitment to adopting 21st century solutions to solving and preventing crime.”
Mariska Hargitay, Founder and President of the Joyful Heart Foundation, said, “Expanding the DNA database is a victory for crime victims and all those who care about preventing and ending sexual assault. We are tremendously grateful to Governor Cuomo and New York’s legislative leaders for their work.”
Maile Zambuto, Chief Executive Officer of the Joyful Heart Foundation, said, “The use of DNA technology has revolutionized our criminal justice system. Perpetrators are held accountable for their crimes, survivors receive the justice they deserve and thousands more are spared the trauma of sexual violence. By expanding the DNA Databank to include all criminal convictions, New York’s leaders have ensured that the state will use DNA to its fullest potential.”
Michael Polenberg and Susan Xenarios, Co-Chairs of the Downstate Coalition for Crime Victims, a consortium of more than 90 victim advocates, service providers, prosecutors and government agencies from New York City and the surrounding counties advocating for sensible legislation and sufficient resources for victims of crime, said, “On behalf of the Downstate Coalition for Crime Victims and the tens of thousands of crime victims we serve, we applaud the passage of the DNA all-crimes bill. This legislation is bold and visionary and will bring justice and healing to thousands of victims each year in New York State. We thank the New York State Assembly and Senate and the Governor for his outstanding leadership in achieving this victory.”
Maggie Fronk, Executive Director of Domestic Violence and Rape Crisis Services of Saratoga County, said, “The all-crimes DNA legislation is a major step in providing safety for victims of relationship or sexual violence. By using available technology, we can identify repeat offenders and exonerate the innocent. New York State will be safer for all citizens because Governor Cuomo has championed this initiative.”
Karen Ziegler, director of the Crime Victim and Sexual Violence Center in Albany, said, “To afford justice to current victims and prevent future victimization by individuals in the DNA Databank, this legislation is critical to all New Yorkers. This can give closure to victims and their families and make communities safer.”
Elaina Marra, executive director of the Victims Assistance Center of Jefferson County, said, “The Victims Assistance Center has been helping crime victims rebuild their lives for more than three decades. This legislation is an excellent form of advocacy and expansion of the Databank will provide for a better sense of justice for victims, knowing the appropriate offender has been incarcerated. I applaud Governor Cuomo and legislative leaders for their support of this important law.”
Ms. Michael Kennedy, Victim Service Leader with Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), said, “Mothers Against Drunk Driving thanks the NYS legislature for supporting expansion of New York’s DNA Databank. As a result of this legislation, more victims of crime will have the opportunity for justice and healing.”
Derek J. Miller, Director of the Orange County Probation Department, which administers a crime victim assistance program, said, “The passage of this legislation is a historic moment for victims of crime past and present and provides law enforcement with an invaluable tool to solve old crimes, prevent future offenses and protect the innocent. The Governor and Legislature are to be applauded for listening to the voices of those whose lives have been changed forever by the terrible effects of crime.”
Ann Marie Cook, President/CEO of Lifespan of Greater Rochester, said, “Lifespan of Greater Rochester is thrilled that the DNA Databank legislation has passed the Legislature and is being signed by the Governor. As direct service provider for elderly victims of abuse, neglect, exploitation and domestic violence in later life, we know this enhancement to the system will help our victims who require expedited identification of their abusers. Due to their advanced age, there is a real possibility that the victim may die before the abuser/perpetrator would come to trial and therefore anything that would speed resolution to these cases is welcome.”