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.

Legal group to discuss immigration, 14th Amendment

The citizenship clause of the 14th Amendment will be the focus of a panel discussion at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, March 29 by the New York Civil Liberties Union’s Lower Hudson Valley chapter.

NYCLU Advocacy Director Udi Ofer will be the keynote speaker at community discussion, “Confronting Challenges to the 14th Amendment.” A panel discussion featuring local residents who were born to immigrant parents will follow.

According to the NYCLU, “the citizenship clause of the 14 Amendment is under threat in Congress and several state legislatures. The clause protects core American values of fairness and equality. The Congress and state legislatures cannot pass bills to deliberately circumvent the Constitution and this type of legislation should be rejected outright.”

The 14th Amendment can only be changed by a constitutional amendment, not by state or local statutes. Linda Berns, director of the NYCLU’s Lower Hudson Valley chapter, said citizenship should never be linked to political or discriminatory sentiment.

“In America, our rights are based on fairness and equal treatment under the law, not who your parents are or what they did or whether today’s politicians approve of them,” she said in a statement.

The meeting and panel discussion will be held at the Ethical Culture Society of Westchester, 7 Saxon Wood Road in White Plains. It is free and open to the public.

Judge opens transit meetings to the public

I count this as a victory for the public’s right to know.

A federal judge has ruled that you, me and any member of the public can attend hearings held by a little-known New York City Transit panel that handles thousands of low-level criminal cases that happen on city subways buses.

Click here to read more about the case, which was brought by the New York Civil Liberties Union.

District Judge Richard J. Sullivan has given New Yorkers a nice gift of sunshine for the holidays.