Graffiti. Public urination. Carrying small amounts of marijuana. Protesting without a permit. Not helping a cop or peace officer.
Aside from their classification as low-level misdemeanors, those crimes don't have much in common. But if some state lawmakers get their way, conviction of those crimes – as well as every other misdemeanor on the books – will lead to mandatory DNA swabbing and a permanent entry in the state's DNA database.
Last month, Gov. David Paterson introduced a bill that would require individuals convicted of a misdemeanor or felony in the penal law to submit a DNA sample.
Although other states only make felony offenses eligible for DNA extraction, New York already collects samples from a individuals convicted of certain misdemeanor offenses. For example, two women who were convicted of petty larceny for two separate shoplifting cases in Port Chester village court earlier this month had to give DNA samples as part of their sentencing.
"Currently, only 46 percent of individuals convicted of a penal law crime provide a DNA sample," said Janine Kava, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Criminal Justice Services. "This legislation would capture the other 54 percent, upon conviction."
The law, if passed, would amount to an additional expense of $400,000 this year and an annual expense of about $1.57 million, in a state where lawmakers are still bickering over how to close a multi-billion dollar budget gap.
The state assembly has already passed a similar bill sponsored by Assemblyman Joseph Lentol, D-Brooklyn. A similar bill has yet to gain senate approval.
Assemblywoman Sandy Galef, D-Ossining, supported Lentol's bill.
"I see it as another tool for law enforcement to be able to use to help them match people to their crimes," Galef said. "It will also help people from being wrongfully accused."
Kava said the state collected about 48,287 DNA specimens from offenders last year and that there are currently no backlogs in the system. As of December, it took an average of 36 days to process a DNA sample, down from 77 days in 2008 and 210 days in 2007, according to Kava.
The average time was longer in 2007 and in 2008 because the labs were dealing with a temporary backlog created by the last expansion of the state DNA law.
"We estimate that the Governor's proposal would result in an annual increase of 48,000 samples," Kava said. "New York State has the capacity to handle this expansion right now. There would be no need for any additional staffing or new labs."
Barry Latzer, a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said he strongly favored the proposal. He noted the British government already has a system similar to the one lawmakers are weighing here -- and that database has helped solve crimes with little evidence beyond DNA. (The ACLU has pointed to studies that show DNA has not led to a statistically significant increase in clearance rates in the U.K.)
Latzer pointed to the case of Jeffrey Deskovic , a Peekskill man who spent 16 years in jail after being wrongfully convicted of the rape and murder of a female classmate at Peekskill High School.
"DNA testing found the real killer," Latzer said. "The proposal raised no significant legal issues. It is no different, legally speaking, that taking fingerprints."
Latzer said the only concern he had was that data could be released to inappropriate parties such as insurance companies. But he said those fears can be addressed by erecting a legal firewall around the data and punishing for its release or improper use.
State Sen Jeff Klein, D-Bronx, has also sponsored a bill that would make all individuals arrested for felonies eligible for entry in to the state DNA database. That bill, which passed the Senate on June 30, would make it possible to expunge the DNA records from the database if the arrest doesn't lead to a conviction.
Collecting DNA for arrests is highly controversial, and a similar bill in California has ignited ongoing debate and a legal battle that has reached federal appeals court, with some analysts predicting the issue will eventually find its way to the Supreme Court.
A Los Angeles Times article notes a third of people who have their DNA collected in California "are not convicted or are never even charged." For those people, removing their DNA from the state database is not easy.
"State law permits an innocent person to have his DNA profile removed from the database," the story notes, "but the process can be lengthy and cumbersome and removal is not guaranteed."
The same bill sponsored by Assemblyman Joe Morelle, D-Rochester, is currently being reviewed by the Assembly codes committee.
"First of all, New York State is not doing everything it possibly can to expand its database," Klein said. "Right now, New York State is responsible for 10 percent of the unsolved crimes in this country."
Klein believes that by extending the DNA database, it will increase the chances of law enforcement agencies wrapping up unsolved cases, stopping future crimes and exonerating the wrongfully convicted.
According to the state DCJS, there have been 8,049 hits against the databank through July 1. Those hits have led to 1,940 convictions – 147 of those were for homicides and 473 were for sexual assaults.
"We already take fingerprints during felony and misdemeanor arrests," Klein said. "DNA samples are the fingerprints of the 21st Century and are far more useful."
Klein said he would also have no problem supporting the Paterson's proposal.
Jennifer Carnig, communications director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, pointed to this document released by the NYCLU, which addresses several concerns that the groups have with the proposals.
Among the concerns: the lack of safeguards against human error during the DNA collection process, concerns that the systems will worsen racial biases that already exist in the criminal justice system, and worry that over-reliance on DNA will make law enforcement officers prone to cutting corners during the investigative process.
In some states, DNA databanks are already used for so-called familial DNA searches, where authorities use partial matches from relatives to zero in on suspects.
With a long-running debate about racial profiling, and statistics that show disproportionately high rates of conviction and incarceration for black and Hispanic citizens, the already-contentious DNA issue becomes more controversial.
"I can imagine lots of African-American families would think it is not fair to put a disproportionate number of black families under permanent genetic surveillance," a law professor told the New York Times last week.
The NYCLU has also been outspoken in opposing familial DNA searches.
Klein doesn't believe human error should too much of a concern.
"Swabbing someone's cheek is not anymore burdensome than putting someone's finger on piece of paper with ink on it," Klein said.
Klein also added that any additional elements to DNA law would have to go through the same legislative processes and would not automatically gain approval.
Eugene O'Donnell, a professor of law and police studies at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, believes the collection of DNA is valuable tool to law enforcement agencies. But he also wonders if a darker side will develop from all the data that is being collected.
"There seems to be a lot more collecting of data and information without any type of pause as to the broader matter of what kind of society is it going to make us into," O'Donnell said. "The problem is that individually, these things are going to make sense, but when you add them all up you wonder if we're going to continue living in a free society."