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New state budget requires DNA be held for 20 years

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In 2007, Anthony Capozzi was cleared after 22 years in prison because long-stored DNA showed he was not the Delaware Park Rapist; it was Altemio Sanchez. The new state budget mandates DNA samples in potential criminal cases be stored for at least 20 years.

Buried in the state budget is an important change in the way the criminal justice system operates in New York.

In much of New York, DNA samples are routinely discarded after 30 days. That ends with the budget, although there is a lot of legal paperwork to go through to set up storage procedures and storage sites that can hold the forensic evidence for the very long haul.

The Capozzi case is not the only one involving life-changing DNA. A Chicago man was recently released after 23 years in prison when DNA evidence from 1994 linked the case to a serial rapist, not the man serving the time. He went back to his job as a groundskeeper for the Chicago White Sox.

Erie County District Attorney John Flynn approves of the change, although he said samples locally are already held for very long periods of time.

"We pretty much know that they have all the proper mechanisms in place to keep it secure, but like I said before, we work with the local law enforcement agencies to make sure that their procedures are correct, their storage mechanisms are up-to-date and proper," Flynn said, "and, therefore, nothing is going to fall through the cracks."

Flynn said local hospitals are very good about holding DNA samples. However, there is also the ambivalence of rape victims about pressing charges.

"If a victim of rape changed her mind and said - not a lot of times, but on occasion - a victim will say, 'Hey, I don't want to press charges. I want to let it go. I want to move on with my life' and then they'll change their mind a year or two years later," Flynn said, "if you don't have the sample there, then from a prosecution standpoint, you're in trouble."

Flynn said almost all local DNA testing is done by the county's Department of Central Police Services, so the existence of the evidence is known and it can be stored carefully to ensure long-term viability as evidence.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.
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