Gov. Cuomo signs DNA expansion bill, now law

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has signed legislation requiring anyone convicted of a felony or penal law misdemeanor to give their DNA to New York state.

The law makes New York the first state in the country with what’s called an “all crimes” DNA database.

Before today, people convicted of a felony and one of 36 misdemeanors – about half the crimes in the state — had to give a sample of their DNA for the DNA Databank. While civil liberties groups have questioned the measure, law-enforcement groups from around the state have championed it.

“This is a great step forward for all New Yorkers,” Westchester County Janet DiFiore said in a statement today. “The all-crimes DNA Database will enhance public safety for every New Yorker across the State. By requiring virtually every person convicted of a felony and a penal law misdemeanor to provide a DNA sample upon conviction, we will use science to convict the guilty as well as exonerate the innocent.”

People convicted of drunken driving misdemeanors, which are covered by the state’s traffic law, would not have to give their DNA to the state. The legislation also includes an exception for marijuana possession, a Class B misdemeanor, as long as there were no prior convictions.

The compromise bill also expands defendants’ access to DNA testing and comparison before and after conviction in appropriate circumstances, and for post-conviction discovery to prove innocence.

New York launched its DNA Databank in 1996. It has been used for more than 2,900 convictions, according to the governor’s office. DNA samples have exonerated 27 people and helped clear many others early on in investigations.

The New York Civil Liberties Union denounced the legislation in a statement last week.

“It will have a negligible impact on enhancing public safety but increase significantly the likelihood for inefficiency, error and abuse in the collection and handling of forensic DNA,” said Robert Perry, NYCLU’s legislative director. “This unprecedented expansion once again does nothing to address the increasingly apparent inadequacies of the state’s regulatory oversight of police crime labs, nor does it establish rigorous statewide standards regarding collection, handling and analysis of DNA evidence to catch or prevent error and ensure the integrity of the databank.

The law takes effect Oct. 12.

Cara Matthews of Gannett’s Albany Bureau contributed to this post.

NY Senate passes DNA testing expansion bill

The DNA Databank Expansion Bill cleared its first hurdle today when the state Senate approved legislation that would require all those convicted on Penal Law crimes, including misdemeanors, to submit their DNA to the state databank. Currently, convicted felons and those convicted of about three dozen specific misdemeanors must give a DNA sample to authorities, typically a cheek swab. The bill would cover convictions of all charges, expect for misdemeanor counts of driving while intoxicated and other traffic misdemeanors.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, in a written statement, called the bill “an important step in protecting New Yorkers and modernizing the state’s criminal justice system. This critical crime fighting resource embraces technology to help protect the innocent and convict the guilty.”

Cuomo urged the state Assembly to pass the bill so he could sign it into law immediately.

NY Chief Judge: expect “a lot of layoffs” under new state budget

The state spending plan that was settled over the weekend will bring deep cuts to many areas of state government, not the least of which will be the courts.

The plan slashes $170 million from the Office of Court Administration, which oversees and funds all courts — from village justice courts to the Court of Appeals — and has court officials reeling over how to absorb the cuts. The reduction is roughly 6.3 percent of the court’s current budget.

State lawmakers originally wanted to cut $270 million, or 10 percent. The state’s top judge, Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman (pictured, above), volunteered to cut $100 million by eliminating, among other services, courthouse child care centers, grants for town and village courts and a program that pays retired judges to work part time as judicial hearing officers.

Now Lippman and other administrative judges around the state must find ways to cut an additional $70 million in spending.

“What is clear is this will be painful by any standards,” he said. “There will be more more spending cuts, layoffs and hardship that anticipated. It will have a tremendous impact on the system.”

It’s too early, Lippman said, to know the number of court employees will lose their jobs, but he said that every kind of court employee will be be targeted for reductions.

“There will absolutely be a workforce reduction with a lot of layoffs,” he said. “There will be very significant cuts. It is a night and day difference between $100 and $170 million.”

Lippman, who lives in Rye Brook, said he didn’t yet know how the cuts statewide would affect the 9th Judicial District, which covers Westchester, Rockland, Putnam, Dutchess and Orange counties. Different areas of the state would be affected differently, he said.

“We’re going to prioritize and figure out where to go from here,” he said. “I’m an optimist and I’ll do everything I can to keep the judiciary viable and strong. But this is certainly going to test us. This is tough stuff.”

Westchester DA named to Cuomo’s transition team

Westchester County District Attorney Janet DiFiore has been named to the public safety committee of Governor-Elect Andrew Cuomo’s transition team, which will recruit, review and recommend high-level people for posts in law enforcement, including counterterrorism.

“These appointments will affect the safety and protection of all New Yorkers on a daily basis, and come at a fiscally challenging time with terrorism a constant concern,” DiFiore said in a statement. “I look forward to the challenge and opportunity that lies ahead as the committee gets to work.”

The other committee members are New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, former Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau, former U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York Zachary Carter, and Franklin County District Attorney Derek Champagne, who is the president of the state District Attorney’s Association.

The Public Safety Committee is the second of three committees that Cuomo has announced prior to taking office on January 1.

Ex-matchmaker deceived clients, judge says

A story on today’s front page tells the story of Gary Ferone of Eastchester, who was found liable for defrauding clients of his former matchmaking businesses, both of which have gone bankrupt.

Great Date Now and its successor, Meet Over Drinks, were sued by New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo after a flood of clients complained that they were jilted by the dating service. They said the companies took their money and never set them up with the promised number of people, if any at all. They also paid up to $5,500 for this service.

A Westchester County civil court judge found in favor of the AG’s office and held Ferone personally liable for his companies’ actions. The judge also and ordered restitution. The AG is asking for $720,000.

To read more of the story, including a personal account from a former Great Date Now client, click here.