Local and State Government Response
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 >
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine announced last Monday that a new unit at the state’s crime lab will handle backlogged rape kits. Four newly hired forensic scientists will staff the new unit and are expected to process 1,500 cases in their first year and double that amount in subsequent years.
An eleven-member commission that the Attorney General’s Office convened also recommended a new policy that law enforcement agencies submit any untested kits to a state lab regardless of whether a decision has been made to prosecute. Previously, there had been no policy on submitting rape kits. According to the policy, these developments will ensure the entry of offender DNA into police databases.
Attorney General DeWine expects the amount of kits sent to Ohio crime labs will increase from 50 percent to 90 percent. He said:
“We want to assure victims of sexual assault their cases will not be forgotten. We are determined to bring these rapists to justice.”
While the extent of Ohio’s rape kit backlog is unknown, the attorney general’s office reported it has received 2,000 backlogged cases just from Cuyahoga County so far, which includes Cleveland. Ohio’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI) currently tests 1,000 rape kits per year and expects that number to More >
Governor Jerry Brown has returned Assembly Bill 322 to the California State Assembly without his signature. AB 322 would have established a two-and-a-half-year pilot program to test all rape kits in ten California counties that make arrests in fewer than 12% of reported forcible rapes.
Governor Brown explained his decision to veto the bill:
“I don’t see why we would mandate counties to participate in a program they don’t want, especially when the state is cutting back on so many programs that are needed and wanted. Local officials are in the best position to determine whether to participate in such a program.”
Due to budgetary constraints, the scope of the bill had narrowed considerably since its introduction by Assemblyman Anthony Portantino, D-Pasadena. Initially, AB 322 required jurisdictions to track and test all rape kits, but the version Governor Brown ultimately reviewed required only the ten counties with the lowest sexual assault arrest rates to eliminate their backlogs.