ALBANY, N.Y., Aug 1 (Reuters) - Starting Wednesday, almost anyone convicted of a crime in New York will be required to submit a DNA sample to the state's sweeping criminal database.
Governor Andrew Cuomo and state lawmakers in March reached a deal to expand the DNA database to include anyone convicted of a felony or a misdemeanor under the state's Penal Law, making it the most expansive in the country.
In the past, only those convicted of felonies and certain misdemeanors, including petty larceny and violent crimes, were required to submit genetic samples.
"This expansion will help solve and prevent crimes, bring justice to victims and prove innocence for the wrongfully convicted -- and above all make our neighborhoods safer for New Yorkers," Cuomo said in a statement.
The law has been widely praised by prosecutors, law enforcement and elected officials, who say that serious, violent crimes are often committed by people who have already been convicted of lower-level offenses.
Before the expansion, "we were missing opportunities to bring offenders to justice sooner, and prevent future victimization," Michael Green, the executive deputy commissioner of the State Division of Criminal Justice Services, said in a statement.
Some lawmakers, criminal defense attorneys and civil rights groups had criticized an earlier draft of the legislation that did not provide defendants with access to the database in order to prevent wrongful convictions. The enacted law includes a provision that allows defendants access in some cases, including murder and rape.
The law is not retroactive and does not apply to children involved in Family Court matters or to youthful offenders. First-time offenders convicted of low-level marijuana possession also are exempt.
Since its creation in 1996, the state's DNA database has helped prosecutors obtain nearly 3,000 convictions and has helped exonerate 27 people, according to Cuomo's office.
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