Federal Judge Upholds Legality of N.Y. State's DNA Database


ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) -- The law establishing New York state's database of DNA samples from convicted offenders is constitutional, a federal judge has ruled.

U.S. District Judge Kevin Thomas Duffy found that the program, which seeks to match crime-scene DNA samples with those of known criminal offenders, does not violate protections against warrantless or suspicionless searches under the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Duffy also found that the collecting of samples, even if taken through blood tests, is not unduly intrusive to offenders, who he noted have a limited expectation of privacy because of being found guilty of crimes. DNA is also typically gathered from offenders through a saliva swab from the mouth. At crime scenes, DNA can also be identified from hair samples and flakes of skin.

Duffy noted that offenders routinely submit to blood tests when they enter the prison system to determine the state of their health and the medical treatment they might need.

"DNA can be used as a powerful tool in solving both past and future crimes," Duffy wrote. "Given the rate of recidivism amongst felons (particularly violent felons), the state certainly has a significant interest in maintaining a DNA database that sufficiently outweighs whatever intrusion of privacy there is" when blood samples are drawn from offenders.

Alexander Reinert, lawyer for the 12 felony offenders who were plaintiffs in the suit, said he had just received a copy of the ruling Monday. "We're reviewing it," Reinert said Tuesday.

The state has operated a DNA database since 1994. It started with samples being required of the most violent felons -- murderers, rapists and the like -- and it was expanded in 1999 to include other felons, including burglars and drug dealers.

Under legislation approved last week by the state Senate and Assembly, the database will be expanded further to include offenders who were found guilty of nearly 100 more crimes. They will include the misdemeanor sex-related counts for which offenders are added to the state's Megan's Law registry.

Gov. George Pataki has indicated he will sign the new database expansion into law.

State officials say there are approximately 125,000 samples from convicted offenders in the database and 12,183 crime-scene DNA samples in the index system.

So far, there have been 1,774 "hits" on the DNA database, according to the state Division of Criminal Justice Services.

"We are gratified that the Court has upheld the constitutionality of our state's DNA databank law," Lynn Rasic, a Pataki administration spokeswoman, said Tuesday. "DNA is truly the fingerprint of the 21st century. DNA technology is a powerful crime fighting tool that is proven to convict the guilty, exonerate the innocent and bring justice to victims."

The decision from Duffy, whose court is in Manhattan, was dated June 23.

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