Beyond the Backlog
Ann M. is the mother of a survivor who was raped when she was just 12 years old in her own home. Her family had to wait ten years for the perpetrator’s arrest. Ann, along with other courageous survivors, played an integral role in advocating for the recent passage of a law expanding New York State’s DNA Databank to include samples from offenders convicted of all crimes. We thank her for sharing her story and giving a voice to survivors across New York.
Many times over the course of the last couple of weeks, people have approached me regarding the passage of legislation expanding the New York State DNA Databank. Some have been congratulatory, some have been concerned, but, mostly, a great many have simply had more questions than anything else. To the ordinary person, DNA is something that you hear about on TV crime dramas or read about in biology class. Unfortunately, I didn’t come about my knowledge of DNA through either of those modes but, rather, through circumstances that I would give anything to change.
Eleven years ago, I was a stay-at-home mom, raising my children—two sons and two daughters—and living a rather ordinary life. That all changed in the More >
Joyful Heart was honored to join Governor Cuomo in Albany on Monday as he signed the bill expanding New York State’s DNA Databank into law. The bill makes New York the first state in the nation to require DNA samples from anyone convicted of a felony or Penal Law misdemeanor. The new law also expands defendants’ access to DNA testing both before trial and after a conviction based on a guilty plea when appropriate. In other limited circumstances, defendants will now be able to seek discovery of property and other materials to demonstrate their actual innocence after conviction.
At the bill signing ceremony, Governor Cuomo praised New York’s legislative leaders for reaching a compromise that would ensure that the State’s dual goals of safety and fairness are met. He said to the audience, which included members of law enforcement, district attorneys, survivors and advocates from across the state:
“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. The bottom line is that this is a tool that works and will make the state safer for all New Yorkers.”
Ann M., the mother of a More >
Since New York established its DNA Databank in 1996, law enforcement agencies from across the state have solved thousands of crimes—including more than 3,300 sexual assaults and 800 murders. After the state legislature expanded the Databank in 2006 to include certain misdemeanors, police solved 53 murders and 223 sexual assaults using DNA samples from petit larceny convictions alone.
The Databank currently captures offender DNA profiles for only 46% of crimes. Governor Cuomo has proposed expanding the Databank to include samples from offenders convicted of all felonies and all penal law misdemeanors. The Senate passed the proposal in January with overwhelming bipartisan support, but it is now stalled in the Assembly.
Expanding the Databank will solve and prevent crimes. It will allow more survivors of violent crimes to see their perpetrators brought to justice. Listen to the powerful story of Ann M., whose twelve-year-old daughter was sexually assaulted in their home. DNA evidence eventually led to the conviction of the attacker, but not until a decade later—when petit larceny became a qualifying offense for DNA collection.
Like Ann, too many survivors and their families wait years for justice and the healing it can bring. While they wait, their perpetrators remain free to commit other More >
Last week, the New York State Senate overwhelmingly passed a bill expanding the state’s DNA Databank. With bipartisan support in a 50 to 10 vote, the Senate adopted Governor Cuomo’s proposal to expand the Databank to include DNA samples from offenders convicted of all felony crimes and every penal law misdemeanor. Under the current law, the Databank captures offender DNA profiles for only 46% of crimes.
As Joyful Heart’s founder and president, Mariska Hargitay, said in a recently released video:
“This reform will bring healing and justice to survivors, hold violent offenders accountable, solve and prevent crimes, and avoid wrongful convictions. We know that individuals who commit serious crimes, like rape, have broken the law before. A single DNA sample often matches to multiple cold cases when entered into the Databank. We also know that many rapists have previous convictions for lower-level crimes. In fact, since New York began collecting DNA samples for some misdemeanor convictions in 2006, offender profiles from shoplifting and criminal trespass convictions alone have matched to 332 sexual assault cases. It is now time for New York to use DNA to its fullest potential.”
While the NYS Senate has taken a very significant step toward bringing healing and justice More >
FBI Director Robert Mueller has announced that the agency will update its definition of rape, taking effect in the spring of 2012. The FBI currently defines rape as the “carnal knowledge of a female forcibly and against her will.” As we have noted before, experts consider this definition to be too narrow, and it leads to the under-reporting of thousands of sexual assaults across the U.S. each year.
An FBI advisory board voted on December 6 to expand the definition of rape and sent the final decision on to Director Mueller. While testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Mueller explained his support for updating the definition:
“That definition was in some ways unworkable, certainly not applicable—fully applicable—to the types of crimes that it should cover.”
The new definition states that rape is “penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.” In updating its terminology, the FBI removed the requirement that a rape involve force and expanded its reach beyond only female victims.
The updated definition of rape will allow local law enforcement agencies to report more sexual assaults to the federal More >