O'Malley Wants DNA Database Expanded

Gov. Martin O'Malley said his proposal to expand DNA testing is modeled after a law in Virginia.
Gov. Martin O'Malley said his proposal to expand DNA testing is modeled after a law in Virginia. (By Rob Carr -- Associated Press)
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By John Wagner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 11, 2008

Gov. Martin O'Malley proposed yesterday that Maryland collect DNA samples from those arrested for violent crimes and burglaries, significantly expanding a state database that currently includes only genetic information about people who have been convicted.

The proposal, which the legislature will consider during its 90-day session, was praised by law-enforcement officials as an important tool for helping resolve unsolved crimes. But the initiative drew strong objections from civil libertarians and public defenders, who said it would infringe on the rights of people who are ultimately found innocent of crimes.

O'Malley (D) said the proposal, which would cost $1.7 million a year, is modeled after a law in Virginia, one of 11 states that have started taking DNA samples from arrestees in recent years.

"We are going to catch up with the vanguard of other states in the country," the governor said at a news conference at the state's forensics lab in Pikesville, where he was flanked by technicians in white lab coats. "It will be a huge help to increasing the reservoir that law enforcement will have."

The proposal was the first to be formally unveiled in a planned two-week rollout of O'Malley's legislative agenda and budget priorities for the session, aides said. He has scheduled an appearance today in Baltimore to talk about juvenile justice, including a new program to monitor 200 at-risk youths.

The state collects DNA samples from convicted criminals by swabbing the inside of their cheek. Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler (D), who appeared with O'Malley yesterday, said the process is not painful and is less intrusive than putting ink on the fingers of someone who has been arrested to take fingerprints.

He noted that when he was a state's prosecutor in Montgomery County, a DNA sample taken from someone arrested for burglary in Virginia had helped convict a rapist in Montgomery.

Sen. Brian E. Frosh (D-Montgomery), chairman of the Judicial Proceedings Committee, which will have jurisdiction over O'Malley's proposal, said similar legislation has failed in the past because of concerns about violating civil liberties. Frosh said "it is hard to handicap" how the initiative will fare now that it has the high-profile backing of O'Malley.

House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) supports the measure, his aides said.

Among those voicing strong objections yesterday was Sen. Lisa A. Gladden (D-Baltimore), the Senate panel's vice chairwoman, who is a public defender.

"I can't believe that we're going to do this," Gladden said. "The mere fact that you've been arrested is not dispositive of criminal activity. . . . Good policing involves shoe leather and smarts to get the job done. You don't just use technology to ensnare people."

Cindy Boersma, legislative director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland, said the proposal would essentially create "a dragnet" that violates the U.S. Constitution's Fourth Amendment, which guards against unreasonable searches and seizures.

Gansler sought to allay such concerns during the news conference, suggesting that the bill could withstand a legal challenge.

O'Malley also announced yesterday that the forensics lab had cleared a backlog of samples that had grown to more than 24,000 at the end of 2006.

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