Innocence Project: Cuomo's DNA Bill Doesn't Include Other Measures to Stop Wrongful Convictions

The state legislature and Gov. Cuomo are under fire for on the one hand, backing legislation that requires everyone arrested in the state to provide a DNA sample, while at the same time, not taking other steps proven to reduce wrongful convictions. (These other steps relate to how police and prosecutors investigate crimes)

The legislation will require anyone arrested--including fare beaters, vandals, shoplifters and other low level suspects--to provide a DNA swatch for the massive state operated database. Until now, the requirement only applied to felony suspects.

The New York state Bar Association and the Innocence Project say the state ranks third in the nation in wrongful convictions. The two groups had recommended videotaping interrogations in order to discourage coerced confessions; improving police lineups to achieve more accurate eyewitness testimony; requiring prosecutors to turn over more evidence that might help clear a suspect; and allowing defendants to obtain DNA evidence even after they have pleaded guilty. Those recommendations were based on a 2009 bar association review of 53 wrongful convictions.

But none of those measures made it into the DNA bill.

"Expanding the database is only going to have a marginal effect on the number of new crimes solved and will be virtually no help to the overwhelming majority of the wrongly convicted whose cases simply lack biological evidence," says Peter Neufeld, one of the founders of the Innocence Project. "If lawmakers are serious about their desire to prevent wrongful convictions and improve public safety, they will pass a reform package that improves police investigation practices to ensure that the right person is convicted." 

The legislation which was supported by the state's prosecutors, including Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, and police departments. "This bill will save lives, guaranteed," Vance told reporters.   Cuomo meanwhile threw his full support behind the legislation, calling it a "big victory for New Yorkers victimized by repeat offenders." "New York will become the first state in the nation to collect all DNA samples from ALL convicted felons. This will not only help us solve crime, it will help us prevent crime and exonerate the wrongly convicted."

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