The Defective DNA of Syracuse Police

By Mark David Blum, Esq.

A debate has erupted in our community over the honor and integrity of the government and its latest effort to gather all our DNA into a single database. For good cause, the local newspaper ran an editorial calling into question a nationalized database of every arrestee’s DNA to be maintained forever. In response, the same newspaper prints anger driven “big brother” leaders such as Onondaga County District Attorney William J. Fitzpatrick and today, Tammy Barletto of the Syracuse Police Department.

The issue that has drawn such law enforcement ire are the words in the paper’s editorial, “that the government "doesn't always act in the public's best interest and DNA records could be misused to smear, embarrass or frame low-level offenders.” I growled when I read Mr. Fitzpatrick’s well reasoned and factual rebuttal. One can hardly argue that when a gun is pointed at your head, that you won’t cooperate. Clearly, gathering this data will obviously help law enforcement and government maintain good and solid surveillance over the People.

But now that the actual police have spoken, my fears and yours are manifesting in front of your very eyes. Consider officer Barletto’s main argument: “Furthermore, the statement that potentially hundreds of "innocent" people would be labeled offenders even though "they may not have committed any offense" if the databank is expanded is also misleading. An acquittal or dismissal does not negate an arrest. In other words, what happens in a courtroom does not necessarily reflect a person's innocence. People are acquitted and cases are dismissed for a variety of reasons. As a reminder, the police need a little something called probable cause to make an arrest. This means the officer must have and must articulate facts and circumstances that lead him or her to believe a particular person has committed a specific crime. Then there are preliminary hearings and grand jury proceedings, which essentially are judicial procedures to determine if sufficient evidence exists to continue. These people are hardly innocent.

Is it just me or have police and prosecutors forgotten where they live and what are the fundamental principles of that location. To me, I thought this was the United States of America. It was always my impression I lived in a nation conceived in liberty and where citizens dedicated their lives, liberties, and good fortunes to support and defend the precious and necessary elements of our founding Constitution.

The Constitution says in unequivocal language and such has been a tradition of our common law going way back; further than even our own nation, that all Americans, … including you and me … are presumed innocent of the crime charged until proven guilty. Consequently, until 12 (or 6) of your peers raise their hands in unison and are convinced that you committed a crime, you are legally and completely innocent. Being acquitted or having a case dismissed on a “technicality” is the very same thing. A technicality is a reason where police have already screwed up and violated the law and the risk of a wrongful conviction is too high. For that reason, judges face down voters and public opinion and follow the law.

I expect my police and all persons involved in law enforcement to live by the same Constitution as do I. For the record, they take same oath as do I and we are truly all on the same side working toward a common goal. To boldly declare that “what happens in a courtroom does not necessarily reflect a person’s innocence” reveals a mindset contrary to our most basic understandings.

But Syracuse Police do not have the foresight to honor the Constitution. To them, being acquitted or having charges dropped are not signals of innocence. Apparently, as so eloquently stated by Barletto, police operate perfectly and properly at every instance and their word is good enough to put someone in the DNA database just because a Syracuse Police Officer says so.

“These people are hardly innocent” shows exactly why government should never have the ability to invade your life. You can now see in black and white the words of your local law enforcement. Their posture is once you are arrested, it must be a righteous arrest and therefore regardless of outcome, they the Government should be able to put your DNA in a mass database for permanent retention.

The hyper defensive posture assumed by the District Attorney and the Syracuse Police Department comes from the newspaper’s representation that there exists the possibility of tampering or error and the risk of injury to the innocent is too high. Both Mr. Fitzpatrick and Ms. Barletto took issue therewith and both pointed to how DNA is being used to exonerate many wrongfully convicted. For that reason alone, argues Barletto, every “criminal” should be required to submit to the database. Mr. Fitzpatrick clearly opines that never would any law enforcement official stoop to tampering with evidence. Even Mr. Laschansky would have been terrified that doing so is a felony.

Is it really necessary to go that far? Do we have to assume malice? Have any of you ever had a situation where the government made a mistake? Have you ever tried to rectify that mistake? Mr. Fitzpatrick and Ms. Barletto point out how many people are being freed “daily” by DNA clearance. Locally Roy Brown and Sammy Swift did near life sentences before being cleared by evolving technology.

If mistakes in the prosecutorial and police investigation processes can cause such an horrendous outcome; where nobody believed them, not even the appellate courts, then how are we to trust the government with access to this most private and personal of ourselves. Our own DNA.

The government is coming for your blood. Grab a silver bullet and don’t fire until you see the whites of their lab coats. More importantly, send a loud and clear message to Senator DeFrancisco that his election year pandering to fear is not acceptable and this law is a clear and present danger to all of us. Or doesnt the Fourth Amendment mean anything anymore?

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