The state Senate has emphatically passed legislation that would expand New York's criminal DNA database.
Senators voted 50-10 on Tuesday to pass the DNA Databank Expansion Bill, which would, if signed into law, require people convicted of all crimes - including misdemeanors - to submit DNA samples to the state's DNA databank. Currently, only someone convicted of a felony, or one of 36 specific misdemeanor charges, is required to submit a DNA sample.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo urged the Assembly to act quickly to pass the bill, which he called "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 said in a statement released after the vote.
Cuomo's 2012-13 executive budget included a proposal similar to the Senate bill.
State Sen. Betty Little, a Republican who represents northeastern New York, called DNA "the 21st Century fingerprint" in an emailed statement.
"To not use the technology readily available to prosecute the guilty, exonerate the innocent and protect the public is unconscionable," she said.
The state's DNA databank was established in 1994 and has since helped solve some 10,000 crimes, according to Little's spokesman, Dan Mac Entee. That figure includes about 900 murders and 3,500 sexual assaults.
The databank has been expanded on several occasions, and Little said that "with each expansion its effectiveness improves."
Law-enforcement agencies and advocacy groups statewide support the bill. Franklin County District Attorney Derek Champagne, a past president of the District Attorneys Association of the State of New York, lobbied for the cause last year.
"It's one of those things that kind of improves both sides," Champagne said. "I think the last count we had, there's been 27 exonerations from DNA in New York state to date. I know the number of convictions obtained is well over 2,700 last time I saw, where DNA was the first link to the individual who was ultimately convicted of the crime."
Champagne stressed that the legislation isn't just about convicting wrongdoers.
"It has the ability to not only solve the crime but also exonerate someone who has been wrongfully accused," he said.
Champagne said the costs associated with DNA sampling have "come down substantially" and that it's no more invasive than a fingerprint.
"The time has come," he said. "I wouldn't say it's long overdue because the technology has been improving, but I think the technology is now to a point where it's clearly the right thing to do and it's clearly the right time to do it. I have the highest praise for the governor for stepping up to the plate on this important issue."
But this bill isn't law yet, and it might not be a slam dunk in the Assembly.
Assemblywoman Teresa Sayward, a Republican from Willsboro, said "a lot" of Democrats view the legislation as an invasion of privacy, but not her.
"There have been so many people that have been wrongly accused," Sayward said, adding that an expanded DNA base also helps solve rape cases.
Assemblywoman Janet Duprey, R-Peru, said she also supports the bill.