- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 10, 2009

BALTIMORE | Gov. Martin O’Malley said Wednesday he would have preferred to make the collection of DNA samples as common as fingerprinting, but that he doesn’t plan to seek an expansion of sample collections beyond a new law.

Mr. O’Malley, who successfully pushed for the new law to expand the use of DNA samples last year, said it already is having a positive impact. He compared anxiety expressed by critics to initial concerns some felt toward fingerprinting.

“I think it’s an identifier and, I think as such, that over time I think you will see the jurisprudence settle out in the same manner that the guidance on fingerprints has settled out,” Mr. O’Malley said.

Mr. O’Malley, who spoke at the University of Baltimore School of Law, said Maryland has taken 7,818 samples since the expansion took effect in January.

The change expanded requirements for DNA samples to be taken from people who are charged with a violent crime or an attempt to commit one, instead of only from felons. The law also applies to people charged with burglary. People are fingerprinted for far more types of crimes, including misdemeanors.

The governor said he became a “card-carrying” believer in DNA technology when he became mayor of Baltimore, which had one of the highest violent crime rates of any city in the nation and continues to struggle with serious crime problems.

Mr. O’Malley, who has been governor since 2007, said DNA helped Maryland achieve an 11 percent drop in homicides last year.

“I’ve been to too many sad funerals,” Mr. O’Malley said. “You know, I met too many moms who have had to bury their sons, and I believe that this technology, that this science, is very much akin to fingerprints.”

The O’Malley administration also closed a backlog of processing 24,000 DNA samples that had built up by the end of 2006. After closing the backlog, Mr. O’Malley said the state has made 167 arrests with DNA, including 15 arrests for homicides and 83 for sexual offenses.

When Mr. O’Malley initially pushed for the legislation in 2008, critics in the General Assembly contended it risked violating civil rights by broadly requiring samples from people who are technically innocent.

Mr. O’Malley and Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler initially wanted law enforcement agencies to keep DNA samples - even if suspects were exonerated, although people could have applied to have the samples destroyed. But the NAACP and members of the Maryland Legislative Black Caucus attacked provisions in the bill they feared would unfairly target minorities. The measure was amended to address a variety of concerns, including adding an automatic expunging process for people found innocent.

Mr. O’Malley said he didn’t anticipate plans to broaden the law next year.

“I think we have a lot of work ahead of us to make the current law work and to make it effective through connections with local law enforcement and timely sharing of this information,” Mr. O’Malley said.

To critics who say the new law is too intrusive on civil liberties, Mr. O’Malley said safe neighborhoods are a crucial foundation for freedom.

“I believe that there’s a tremendous amount of liberation, hope and freedom that comes from making a neighborhood safer,” Mr. O’Malley said.

Maryland has submitted a total of 80,167 DNA samples to a national law enforcement database, triple the amount at the end of 2006. The Combined DNA Index System, or CODIS, is used by police across the country to try to solve crimes by matching evidence from crime scenes to known offenders.

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