ANNAPOLIS – Gov. Martin O’Malley argued for the collection of DNA samples from people arrested for a litany of violent crimes, including arson, rape and burglary, during a Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee hearing Wednesday.
Under a bill proposed by the governor, DNA samples would then be kept on file in a state database, theoretically making it easier to quickly identify suspects in other crimes.
The legislation is modeled after a law in Virginia, one of 11 states that currently take DNA samples from arrestees. Under current law in Maryland, only those convicted of felonies are required to submit DNA samples.
O’Malley urged the committee to focus not on the bill’s funding requirements – $1.7 million per year – but instead on its ability to greatly enhance crime solving in Maryland, which he said ranks as the fourth most violent state in the country.
“If we can save even one person from being murdered or raped, it’s hard to put a price on that,” he said.
Some senators had questions about the bill’s constitutionality and were concerned that the DNA samples of people who were arrested but not convicted of any crime would be kept on file in a database.
Maryland Attorney General Douglas Gansler said common concerns with DNA legislation pertain to the Fourth and Fifth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, which protect people from unreasonable search and seizure and self incrimination.
However, the collection of DNA samples applies to neither of these, he said, since it’s a character trait, not a forced statement or seized property.
“Constitutionally, there is no difference between taking this and fingerprints, which are also taken at the time of arrest,” Gansler said.
DNA sampling, which is done by swabbing the inside of a person’s cheek, is actually less invasive than rubbing their fingers in ink and across a pad of paper, Gansler said.
Another major concern among the senators was that the DNA of an arrested party who is never charged with a crime or is found not guilty in court would remain in the database indefinitely.
“If a person is arrested and found not guilty, why not automatically expunge their sample?” said Sen. Jamie Raskin, D-Montgomery.
Gansler said that most people are never arrested for violent crimes. Having the DNA of a once-suspected person on file can’t really be interpreted as a bad thing if it could lead to a future conviction, Gansler said.
“Either it will never be used, it will just be in a database forever, where it doesn’t take up space, or it will be [used], and then you’re glad you have it,” Gansler said.
The bill received overwhelming endorsement from police chiefs across the state, but opponents – public defenders, the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland and the Maryland Chapter of the National Organization for Women – said the practice is unconstitutional, expensive and not proven to be effective.
Lori Albin, director of legislation for the Office of the Public Defender, said taking DNA is not like fingerprinting because it also reveals health and family information. Fingerprinting, she said, is mainly used for identification.
“It is a violation of your Fourth Amendment right to [be free from] unreasonable search and seizure,” she said. “Courts have long agreed that the taking and analysis of DNA is a search under the Fourth Amendment.”
-30- CNS 02-13-08