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Law enforcement officials support measure to expand DNA databank

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's push to expand the collection of DNA to include samples from those convicted of misdemeanor crimes and all felonies picked up the support of area law enforcement officials Wednesday.

Citing the fact that thousands of crimes have been solved with DNA from violent felons, Erie County District Attorney Frank A. Sedita III said many more unsolved crimes could be solved if the law were expanded to include misdemeanors. Felons have been required to give their DNA since a state DNA databank started in 1996.

Altemio Sanchez, the Bike Path rapist and murderer, would not have been able to kill Clarence resident and mother Joan Diver in 2006, Sedita said, had his DNA been part of the DNA bank from years earlier when he was convicted of patronizing a prostitute in the 1990s.

"If Sanchez had been compelled to give a sample of DNA in the 1990s, he would likely never have had the opportunity to murder Joan Diver because he would have been sitting in a state prison cell. That's how important this is," Sedita said.

At present, DNA samples are collected at crime scenes and stored in the databank and then compared with samples taken from those convicted of felonies and serious misdemeanors. When there is a DNA match, police have a suspect.

"The only group opposed to this legislation are criminals who would love to see the proposal defeated, buried or held hostage to some other agenda," Sedita said.

Some who have voiced concern about the databank have said they are worried that the system could be abused. Others have said they want to make sure the databank is accessible to defendants.

With 35,000 DNA samples from unknown individuals on file in the bank, there are many crimes just waiting to be solved, according to Elizabeth Glazer, state deputy secretary for public safety, who was among the nearly 20 officials at the news conference in Sedita's office.

In supporting expansion of the DNA databank, Buffalo Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda said DNA evidence has proved crucial in solving a number of murders and rapes in the city in recent years.

"Criminals commit all types of crimes, small and large. They have no respect for the law," Derenda said. "By databanking their DNA, you end up solving crimes and stopping crimes from being committed in the future."

The State Senate approved Cuomo's measure three weeks ago. It is now pending in the Assembly.

Under the proposed law, anyone convicted of a misdemeanor under the state's penal code would be required to give a sample of DNA.

Also to be included are previously exempt felony convictions, such as felony driving while intoxicated or felony cruelty to animals, which respectively fall under the state's vehicle and traffic laws and the agriculture and markets laws.