- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 14, 2008

ANNAPOLIS (AP) — Gov. Martin O’Malley urged lawmakers to require DNA samples from people who are arrested for violent crimes and burglary, a significant expansion of current state law. Lawmakers questioned whether the proposal was too broad.

Mr. O’Malley described the measure as a badly needed crime-fighting tool for Maryland. He asked lawmakers yesterday to “move to the next generation of what I like to refer to as the modern-day, next-generation fingerprint.”

“We are the fourth-most violent state in the union, and there’s really no good reason for it,” Mr. O’Malley testified. “We all need to fight back against violent crime, and our state needs to become a much stronger and forward-leaning partner with our local law enforcement.”

Currently, Maryland takes DNA samples only from convicted felons. Mr. O’Malley’s proposal, which he described as one of the most important pieces of his legislative package this year, would require DNA samples to be taken from anyone arrested for about 15 violent crimes and for burglary.

Lawmakers were particularly concerned about extending the law to nonviolent crimes, like burglary. Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler, who supports the bill, testified that burglary can often lead to violent crime when a burglar goes inside a home and finds someone inside they weren’t expecting.

But Sen. Lisa A. Gladden, Baltimore Democrat who is a public defender, pointed out that the law would apply to fourth-degree burglary, which can land someone in jail for looking into a car too long.

“Clearly, fourth degree is just too broad,” she said.

The ACLU of Maryland also objects to the proposal on constitutional grounds, saying the bill would increase the chance of errors at the state’s forensic lab in Pikesville by increasing the volume of samples.

But Mr. Gansler countered that the DNA sample, which is taken by a swab inside the mouth, is less intrusive than fingerprinting. Mr. Gansler also said similar laws have withstood court challenges in other states.

The bill also would allow the Maryland State Police to retain the DNA sample, even if someone who is charged ends up exonerated, raising further concerns with lawmakers.

A separate bill sponsored by Delegate Benjamin F. Kramer, Montgomery Democrat, would allow people who are arrested but not charged to have the sample expunged after 60 days. Under the measure Mr. O’Malley supports, a person could apply to have the sample expunged, but the request could be denied.

During a hearing in the House Judiciary Committee, Delegate Kathleen M. Dumais, Montgomery Democrat, said she was concerned about the cost of the expansion, saying it was not clear how expensive the measure would be. The O’Malley administration estimates it would cost between $1.3 million and $2.6 million.

Eleven states have similar DNA sampling requirements, and 22 others have been considering legislation to move in that direction.

Crimes that would require DNA samples under the O’Malley proposal include abduction, burglary, kidnapping, manslaughter, rape, carjacking and assault.

It was the third time Mr. O’Malley has testified in person before lawmakers on legislation. He also testified for a repeal of the death penalty, which failed last year, and a bill requiring tougher emissions for cars. That measure was passed by the Maryland General Assembly, but it has been blocked by President Bush, along with measures approved in more than a dozen other states.

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