- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 24, 2008

ANNAPOLIS | Lawmakers Tuesday said that the O’Malley administration needs to fix problems with the current criminal DNA system before it expands the state’s database in a response to news that the state could not account for more than 2,000 genetic samples.

“With these new revelations, it highlights concerns that we have with the collection and storage of DNA,” said Delegate Aisha Braveboy of Prince George’s County, a member of the Legislative Black Caucus, which has been critical of Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley’s plans to expand DNA collection.

State officials ordered parole and probation officers to account for DNA samples for 2,010 offenders by the end of the week, according to an e-mail obtained by The Washington Times Monday.

“I would say that 2,000 samples is pretty significant in terms of the number that has either been not collected or is missing,” Miss Braveboy said. “I think it’s a little bit more than ‘routine maintenance.’”

Mr. O’Malley dismissed questions about the missing DNA samples, saying his administration has done significantly more to enhance the state’s DNA collection system than his predecessor, former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican.

“We have had more matches in the last 18 months, than in the prior two years,” Mr. O’Malley said on WTOP Radio on Tuesday, referring the number of DNA samples to result in a positive match with DNA from a crime scene.

When asked about The Times article that first reported the unaccounted 2,010 samples, he said he does not read the newspaper.

Mr. O’Malley has made DNA collection, and the expansion of the state’s DNA system, one of the hallmarks of his tenure as governor. He pushed his plan to expand DNA collection to include suspects when they are arrested, citing the clearance of more than 24,000 samples that had been sitting unprocessed when he took office.

The state’s current DNA collection law, passed in 1995, only allows samples to be taken from convicted felons. Since then, the state has processed more than 72,000 samples.

A top O’Malley administration official this week, in an e-mail circulated among parole and probation officers, said he was concerned about the missing samples.

“The attached spreadsheet contains the names of 2,010 offenders who have been identified … as being required to submit a DNA sample but for whom there is no sample in the MSP database,” wrote Deputy Director of Parole and Probation Philip Pie, in a Sept. 22 e-mail. “This is a high-priority project that must be completed this week.”

“We went from the dark ages … to a system that tries to collect every eligible piece of DNA,” said Kristen Mahoney, executive director of the Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention.

It’s normal to fall behind by 2,000 samples given that new samples need to be taken for roughly 1,000 offenders monthly and that the state just finished clearing a large backlog, Mr. Pie said.

The General Assembly passed a crime lab oversight law last year after reports of cross-contamination of DNA samples and poor accounting for how the samples are handled

“To our knowledge, nothing has been done to implement the bill,” said Cindy Boersma, legislative director for the Maryland American Civil Liberties Union.

The bill establishes new guidelines for the state’s forensic laboratories and requires that Mr. O’Malley appoint members to an advisory commission and provide funding for a staff forensic technician to aide the group. Mr. O’Malley has yet to appoint the commission and did not include funding for the technician in his most recent budget.

“Someone’s cholesterol test is treated with more oversight than a forensic lab test that will result in either someone’s incarceration or execution,” Mrs. Boersma said.

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