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Joyful Heart in the News
Debate grows over DNA database expansion
New York law enforcement officials are pushing for a major expansion to the state's DNA databank.
If approved, the state would require those convicted of misdemeanor crimes to submit DNA samples just like felony convicts already do.
The Capital Region Chapter of the New York Civil Liberties Union, and some local defense attorneys say the DNA database expansion goes too far, but law enforcement officials and victims contend it's just what needs to happen to make sure violent offenders end up behind bars.
On Monday, police and prosecutors from across the Capital Region gathered to push Governor Andrew Cuomo's proposal to expand the state's DNA database.
Out on the street, opinions on the plan are mixed.
Phyllis D'Antonio of Albany said, "I do not believe it's an invasion of privacy. I mean, after all, if these people committed some kind of crime, be it ever so small, why not have their DNA registered for any future incidents?"
Damon Bae said, "Maybe it's carrying it a little too far, you know? For a minor misdemeanor to store DNA, I don't know?"
Local victim advocates, police and district attorney's say DNA evidence is crucial from a survivor's perspective.
Warren County District Attorney Kate Hogan said,
"[DNA is important] particularly in the arena of sexual assault and domestic violence," Hogan said.
"If you see the burden on a victim of sexual assault, knowing that they have to go into a courtroom and testify against someone who had so brutally violated them, it is really an extraordinary burden when they think it's just their word against his word. But when they know that there is DNA as part of the case, and that DNA is the silent witness that will corroborate their version of the facts, it reduces their stress exponentially," she said.
Maggie Fronk is the Director of Domestic Violence and Rape Crisis Services of Saratoga County.
"Imagine that same assault happens, and yet there's DNA evidence, and with that DNA evidence they're able to check, and they're able to find a match for it, and it's someone who has had a criminal history before, maybe burglaries, maybe animal abuse, each time escalating to something that's more violent. But because there was this DNA, that criminal is able to be put behind bars."
But Melanie Trimble of the Capital Region Chapter of the New York Civil Liberties Union says the governor would have to overhaul the plan in order for the group to support it.
After looking at the proposal, the NYCLU is now calling for strict standards in collection, storage and use of the DNA evidence.
"Most people don't realize that there are many cases in which innocent people have been convicted on DNA evidence because it's been contaminated, or it just has traces, or it's not properly stored. So we want to make sure that peoples' interests are protected," she said.
Law and Order: SVU TV Star Mariska Hargitay is also speaking out on behalf of the change.
She says she became passionate about victims of abuse after receiving hundreds of letters from survivors who reached out to her due to her role in the show.
That's what inspired Hargitay to start a group called 'The Joyful Heart Foundation.'
The non-profit has a mission to educate and empower survivors of sexual abuse, domestic violence and child abuse.
The actress recorded a special video message posted on the front page of the 'Joyful Heart' website urging lawmakers and citizens to support the New York DNA Database expansion.