- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 26, 2008

ANNAPOLIS (AP) — The Maryland Senate yesterday voted to expand DNA sampling in the state’s legal system, approving the collection of genetic material from people who have been charged with violent crimes and burglary.

The Senate voted 36-11 after accepting amendments similar to those in a bill approved by the House of Delegates last week. The changes were made to allay criticism that the legislation was too invasive to people who are presumed innocent until proved guilty.

The Legislative Black Caucus said an earlier version of the bill went too far and would unfairly target minorities. Caucus members walked out of a meeting in protest earlier this month, and then worked for changes with the O’Malley administration.

Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, proposed the expansion to fight crime more effectively.

DNA samples, which are taken by a swab inside the mouth, currently are collected only from convicted felons.

A significant amendment creates a provision to destroy a DNA sample that is taken from someone who is not convicted. Critics of the initial bill complained that expungement is not automatic if a case is dismissed or a suspect is exonerated.

In another big change, a DNA sample wouldn’t be taken until criminal charges are filed, instead of when an arrest is made.

Unlike the House, the Senate amended the measure so that it will sunset after five years. Differences will be settled in a conference committee.

Sen. Nathaniel J. McFadden, Baltimore Democrat, said he regarded the initial bill with “trepidation,” but supported the measure because the crime rate in Baltimore is too high and he wants to give law enforcement more tools.

“My citizens are calling for a serious reduction of crime in the city of Baltimore, and anything that drives us towards that, I think, is important and we have to consider it,” Mr. McFadden said.

Despite the amendments, some Republicans and Democrats say the bill goes too far.

Sen. Alex X. Mooney, Frederick Republican, said he had questions about how well DNA samples would be protected and how they would be used while in storage.

“We need to look at these things much more carefully,” Mr. Mooney said.

Sen. Delores Goodwin Kelley, Baltimore County Democrat, said lawmakers should wait to expand DNA use, at least until the state follows through with legislation approved last year to create regulations and licensing rules for crime labs. The law was enacted to address mistakes with DNA in legal cases.

“So it is premature to collect a lot of DNA when you’ve been messing up with it, and people have been exonerated post-conviction,” Mrs. Kelley said.

Eleven states, including Virginia, allow the collection of genetic material before conviction, state analysts say.

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