Monday, 28 May 2007

Mr. Spitzer's DNA Proposal


Mr. Spitzer's DNA Proposal

Gov. Eliot Spitzer is right to want to expand New York States use of DNA
evidence to solve crimes and exonerate the innocent. But, disappointingly,
his proposed plan includes an unrelated and unworthy new provision that
would seriously undermine his declared goal of minimizing injustice.

The plan would set an arbitrary one-year deadline for convicted criminals
to challenge their convictions, except for claims of newly discovered
evidence, like DNA, proving innocence. Anyone denied a competent lawyer or
access to supportive evidence in the hands of a prosecutor or who was
convicted on the basis of what turns out to be perjured testimony would be
barred from challenging his conviction beyond a period of 12 months.

It is true that a big percentage of post-conviction pleas for relief are
without merit and some are frivolous. But some are not. And it is hardly
as if the court system has ground to a halt without this 1-year cutoff. If
Mr. Spitzer wants to reduce the number of convicted criminals who
challenge their convictions, he should start by addressing the serious
problems with the state's public defender system that give rise to many of
the legitimate complaints.

As for Mr. Spitzer's DNA proposals, some such as giving criminals the
right to have DNA samples gathered in their case tested against the DNA
database are quite positive. Others need work.

Expanding the state's database to include samples from everyone found
guilty of a felony or misdemeanor would seem to make practical sense. But
there is a worrying potential for abuse. Any expansion ought to be
accompanied by a directive to the state's forensic science commission to
recommend ways to improve upon existing privacy protections. One approach
that should be considered is requiring that DNA samples be destroyed once
the strand containing the limited information needed for the criminal
matching process is on file.

Last week, the Republican-led Senate approved Mr. Spitzer's plan,
including the unwarranted one-year limitation on post-judgment challenges.
The Democratic-led Assembly should insist that the provision be stricken,
and carefully scrutinize the DNA-related aspects. Theres enough time in
the session to significantly improve upon Mr. Spitzer's draft.

(source: Editorial, New York Times)

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