Press Releases

New York City Bar Association Supports Legislation to Fix the Least Restricted and Most Expansive DNA Identification Index in the U.S.

The New York City Bar Association has released a report approving legislation (A.7818/S.6009), pending in the State Legislature, that would bring an end to unjust and unfair DNA-information gathering and indexing by the New York City Office of the Chief Medical Examiner. While the State DNA Identification Index Law carefully regulates the input of data to the State DNA Index, and authorizes only the inclusion of people who have been convicted of crimes, the New York City OCME nevertheless maintains an unregulated DNA index “that includes juveniles and people who have not been charged or convicted of crimes, [which means that] New York City holds the unfortunate distinction of having the least restricted and most expansive DNA identification index in the country.”

The inadequacies of the OCME index extend beyond its overbroad scope. DNA samples maintained in that index “are frequently taken without court order or individual consent. Many of these samples have been collected surreptitiously by the NYPD from individuals in police custody, including one sample taken from a 12 year old boy’s soda that was provided to him during an interrogation.” Regulation of the use of the collected DNA information is similarly lax. “OCME compares DNA from this broad group of people to a much broader class of evidence than what exists in the regulated State DNA index. The OCME accepts for DNA comparison evidence samples of lower quality and less directly connected to a crime than does the State DNA index.” Moreover, innocent members of the public whose DNA information may have been collected face greater obstacles to expunging that data from the OCME index, which “does not provide for expungement upon acquittal, dismissal, failure to bring charges, or adjudication as a juvenile or youthful offender.” These failings fly in the face of New York State’s laws pertaining to DNA-information collection, and of the bare minimum regulations enacted by every other state and the federal government, as detailed in the City Bar report.

“The legal parameters of the City’s unregulated DNA index have confounded local courts, leading to a litany of inconsistent decisions. Appellate authority in this area is limited as the issue is not reviewable on direct appeal,” states the report.

On February 25, the New York City Council will hold hearings on the subject, to which the City Bar has submitted its analysis, and the NYPD has made limited proposals for self-regulation. However, any resulting regulations overlook that the existence of the OCME index fundamentally contradicts State law. “[D]ecisions about DNA indexing have already been made by the legislature, and any expansion of those limitations should be made by legislators who are accountable to the people of New York,” states the report.  

The full report can be read here: