Gov. O'Malley Wants DNA Samples from People Arrested for Violent Crimes - Southern Maryland Headline News

Gov. O'Malley Wants DNA Samples from People Arrested for Violent Crimes


DNA of Those Not Charged or Found Not Guilty Would Remain in Government Database

By KATE ELIZABETH QUERAM, Capital News Service

ANNAPOLIS (Feb. 13, 2008) - 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.''

Gov. Martin O’Malley DNA Testimony
February 13, 2008

I am joined by Attorney General Gansler, the Superintendent of State Police Terry Sheridan, and leading authorities in forensic sciences, prosecution and law enforcement who all believe that an expansion of our State’s DNA Database will solve more violent crimes more quickly and put murderers and rapists behind bars before they murder or rape again.

Today we urge your support for legislation that is supported by virtually every police chief in every town and county in our State. It is supported by virtually every prosecutor, every State’s Attorney in Maryland.

When a state makes the decision to collect DNA fingerprints from individuals who have been arrested for crimes of violence, lives are saved. By adding one simple noninvasive step to the booking process of an individual arrested for rape, robbery, shooting, murder, we can save lives.

Many of you have seen a Chicago study that has documented 60 violent crimes including 53 murders and rapes that could have been prevented if the perpetrator had been required to submit a DNA sample for a prior qualifying arrest.

By improving the collection and sharing of information, our neighbors in Virginia have closed over 300 cold cases—and Innocence Project has used DNA to exonerate 212 people. This is the natural evolution of forensic science.

Criminal history records reveal that repeat offenders typically have multiple violent felony arrests before a conviction is secured. Virginia has learned that approximately 40 percent of its violent crimes solved were perpetrated by those with previous property crime convictions.

Here in Maryland, the trends have been no different. Take for instance Leon Copeland, a career criminal, who has been arrested 16 times since 1976. Under the proposed legislation, DNA could have been collected at the time of 10 of these arrests. Arrests for alleged robberies and sex crimes – all in his past. Baltimore County charged him with a murder and a rape in 2000 and another rape in 2004 - all crimes dating from 1986. It seems that Mr. Copeland may have left his DNA at the scenes of these crimes allegedly committed 20 years ago.

Sadly, since those heinous crimes were committed:

-- Leon Copeland was arrested for assault with intent to murder in 1986. Missed opportunity #1.

-- Copeland was arrested for robbery. Missed opportunity #2.

-- Copeland was arrested for rape and robbery. Missed opportunity #3.

-- Copeland was arrested for a 1st degree sex offense. Missed opportunity #4.

-- Copeland was arrested for robbery with a deadly weapon. Missed opportunity #5.

Under the proposed legislation, law enforcement would have been able to obtain a match using DNA samples collected from Copeland during these missed opportunities. Had we been able to take a DNA fingerprint at the time of these 5 arrests, we would have been able to charge him with murder and rape years earlier—and at least one of our neighbors would have never become a victim.

Law enforcement needs access to the best tools available to identify offenders – and our State is in a position to deliver this expanded technology as a 21st Century crime fighting tool to prevent needless attacks against our citizens.

We have the resources and we have shown that we have the capacity. Through the dedication of the hardworking staff of the Maryland State Police Forensic Sciences Division, in one year together, we have eliminated our DNA backlog of 24,300 convicted offenders, increased our uploads to FBI's CODIS system by 88 percent and increased our positive DNA matches (or "hits") by 51 percent. And this year, we have allocated $1.3 million in the budget now before you to fund additional personnel and equipment for the Lab.

But there is more to do…

-- As one of the most violent states in the nation, don’t we have an obligation to strategically deploy all legal means necessary to better protect our people?

-- And as neighbors who share a belief in the dignity of every individual, don’t we also share a responsibility to the victims of crime and violence in the battle to improve the quality of every life?

-- This bill would allow Maryland to join states like Virginia and California who also have given their officers the tools they need to improve public safety.

We have vowed to fight back against violent crime—whenever and wherever it occurs in our State. This is not some pervasive enemy that cannot be defeated—the common scourge of civil society. By bringing together our innovation and technology, we can better protect not only the rights of the accused, but the fabric of our community while we save more lives.

For all those who know the darkness of violence, for our neighbors who live under its fear, and for our kids who would otherwise know its burdens, together, let us make our State a safer and better place.

Thanks very much for your time.

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