- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 19, 2008

ANNAPOLIS (AP) — A measure to expand the collection of DNA samples from people arrested for violent crimes and burglary ran into strong resistance from the NAACP and members of the Maryland Legislative Black Caucus, who walked out of a House caucus meeting yesterday in frustration.

Opponents are fighting the bill because they say it is too broad and requires DNA collections from innocent people who haven’t been convicted of any crimes. Initially, the bill — which is one of Gov. Martin O’Malley’s priorities this session — would have required that DNA samples be kept by law enforcement even if people ended up being exonerated.

The measure has been amended so that authorities would have to inform someone of the right to expunge the sample, if the charges are dropped or the person is acquitted.

When the bill was brought up on the House floor yesterday morning, Delegate Joseph F. Vallario Jr., the Judiciary Committee Chairman, told lawmakers to “feel free” to bring more amendments to the committee.

“Our door is always open,” Mr. Vallario, Prince George’s Democrat, said shortly before action on the bill was put off until tomorrow.

The scope of the bill also has been narrowed in response to critics. For example, someone charged with fourth-degree burglary would no longer have a DNA sample taken. But more serious burglary charges would still require samples.

Delegate Aisha N. Braveboy, Prince George’s Democrat, is working on more amendments to clarify expungement rules and how local crime labs process samples, which will be stored by the Maryland State Police.

“I think that the amendments are fair, reasonable and make the bill a little bit more comprehensive, so I would hope that the body would be open to those amendments,” Miss Braveboy said.

Mr. O’Malley proposed the bill as a crime-fighting tool.

“We are the fourth-most-violent state in the union, and there’s really no good reason for it,” Mr. O’Malley said. “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.”

Christine Hansen, an O’Malley spokeswoman, said the governor’s staff has been working to address the “legitimate concerns” expressed by the caucus.

To some, though, no amount of amendments will help the bill this year.

Delegate Jill P. Carter, Baltimore Democrat, said she hoped the bill would be defeated, because she said it reverses the presumption of innocence and targets certain groups.

“The bill needs to die and go into a task force and come back next year or some future year,” Miss Carter said. “How do you make a bill that reverses presumption of innocence better?”

The Maryland State Conference of the NAACP and the civil rights organization’s Baltimore branch also have objected strongly to the bill.

“Expansion of sample collection to all those arrested for a felony will further exacerbate the racial bias of the criminal justice system,” the group wrote last week.

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

Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler, who testified with Mr. O’Malley in favor of the bill, said burglary can often lead to violent crime, such as when someone breaks into a person’s home and finds someone inside unexpectedly.

Eleven states currently 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 would include abduction, burglary, kidnapping, manslaughter, rape, carjacking and assault.

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