ANNAPOLIS – Two years ago DNA evidence collected from criminals helped investigators in 39 cases; today that number has climbed to 224, the lab director for the State Police Forensic Sciences Division said.
The number has climbed because of more samples in the database, Jay Tobin said. After a decade of testing DNA, there are now 36,541 offender DNA samples in the state’s collection.
The Ehrlich administration is sponsoring a bill, heard Tuesday by the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, to change when criminals must submit to the testing. The measure is aimed at creating a faster, more streamlined process, which sponsors hope will aid in closing old cases.
The House gave the plan preliminary approval Tuesday.
“The beauty, Tobin said, is the program “collects samples right at square one, right as the person has been convicted. No way a person can fall through the cracks.”
The bill calls for DNA — an individual’s genetic code — to be collected at the courthouse after sentencing from felons and those guilty of two misdemeanors: fourth degree burglary or breaking and entering into vehicle.
Now a convicted person must give a sample when going into a correctional facility or at a later date, if the sentence does not include prison time.
For Tobin’s office, the new procedure will cut down on the amount of work to be done. Now, each time a DNA sample is submitted his staff must verify that the person is a qualified offender.
A pilot program expanding DNA collection in Prince George’s County has been successful in streamlining the process.
“They get the DNA sample quickly, non-obtrusively so they build up the DNA database,” said Sen. John A. Giannetti Jr., D-Prince George’s, a committee member.
“They are going to be catching more and more criminals this way,” said Sen. Jennie M. Forehand, D-Montgomery, also a committee member.
“Nobody even testified against it,” Giannetti said. “We try to accommodate the administration if they are moving forward the public interest of fighting crime as long as they don’t intervene with privacy laws.”
The Judicial Proceedings Committee is likely to back the bill because it does have wide support, he said.
A backlog has been whittled down to around 12,000 felons in need of DNA testing, Maryland State Police Superintendent Col. Thomas E. Hutchins said. And it helps close cases, he said.
In 1994, Kirk Bloodworth was released from death row after DNA testing exonerated him in the rape and murder of a 9-year-old girl.
“It works, that’s the thing. This bill allows collection of those that don’t enter a correctional facility,” Hutchins said. “This thing is proving itself across the country, not only in solving crime and convicting people it has also cleared people, too.”