- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 22, 2008

ANNAPOLIS (AP) — Maryland took another step toward expanding the collection of DNA samples from people who are arrested for violent crimes and burglary, after the House of Delegates approved more amendments yesterday to answer critics who said the measure was too broad.

The bill, which is a priority for Gov. Martin O’Malley, received preliminary approval in the House.

The measure would be a significant expansion of the use of DNA in Maryland’s legal system. Currently, only convicted felons are required to submit a sample for the state’s DNA database.

Members of the Legislative Black Caucus and the state NAACP opposed the bill initially, arguing it was too broad and could worsen what they described as racial bias in the courts. Caucus members expressed frustration with the bill this week by walking out of a meeting with other lawmakers.

Delegate Aisha N. Braveboy, a caucus member who chaired a workgroup for the caucus on the legislation, said she thought most of the group’s members were satisfied with the amendments.

“I believe that the majority of the caucus plans to support the bill as amended,” said Miss Braveboy, Prince George’s Democrat.

One of the most significant amendments creates a provision for the automatic destruction of a DNA sample within 60 days if an arrested person is not convicted. Under the initial proposal, the DNA in such cases would have remained in the state’s database.

Another amendment would allow someone to ask that his or her DNA be analyzed after an arrest, instead of having to wait until arraignment.

An amendment also addresses post-conviction relief. It defines conditions on how convicts can seek a new trial if they contend they were convicted on faulty DNA evidence.

The measure would require DNA samples to be taken from people arrested for any of about 15 violent crimes, such as abduction, kidnapping, manslaughter, murder, rape, carjacking and assault. Burglary was added because prosecutors say it can lead to violent crime.

Eleven states have similar DNA sampling requirements, and 22 others have been considering such legislation.

Mr. O’Malley, a Democrat, has touted the bill as an important crime-fighting tool. He announced in January that a DNA backlog at the state’s crime lab had been eliminated.

Supporters say the expansion would match the DNA of people who have been arrested to existing case files. The samples would be used to help close old cases, prevent repeat offenders and exonerate people imprisoned for crimes they did not commit.

A final vote in the House was expected either last night or today. The Senate also is considering a bill, which is facing scrutiny similar to that in the House. The Senate put off working on the bill until Monday.

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