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Making Maryland Safer with the Appropriate Use of DNA

By Colonel Marcus J. Brown, Superintendent, Maryland State Police

A lot of smart people came together in 2008 to determine how we could more effectively use DNA technology to make Maryland safer.  They included veteran prosecutors, experienced criminal justice professionals, and concerned legislators.  They agreed with Governor O’Malley’s vision and worked on a fair, practical, and reasonable approach to better protection for our citizens with DNA evidence.

Criminal justice professionals examined the impact the legislation could have on reducing crime in Maryland.  One review focused on three violent crime offenders in Baltimore County and Baltimore City and found that, if the law had been in effect when they were arrested, at least 19 other violent crimes they were charged with would likely have been prevented.

Careful study of existing laws was conducted to ensure Maryland’s law was focused and fair.  Maryland’s statute requires that a person must be both arrested and charged with a qualifying crime before a sample can be taken.  In addition, the sample cannot be analyzed for entry into the arrestee/charged database until the suspect has had his or her first arraignment.  Since then, 13 additional states have passed similar laws, bringing the total number of states with laws like ours to 26.

The Maryland Chiefs of Police Association and law enforcement professionals across our state supported this legislation.  In the past three years, they have witnessed its effectiveness and continue to support its purpose.  This Association is also in support of an appeal of the decision rendered yesterday.

Since January 1, 2009, we have used this law to take dozens of violent offenders off Maryland streets.  A Baltimore County man was arrested, convicted of first degree rape, and sentenced to life in prison in October 2010, due to DNA evidence originally collected after he was arrested for allegedly sexually assaulting his seven and eight-year-old female cousins in 2008. The DNA evidence collected from this arrest matched the DNA collected at the scene of a 2004 rape of a 13-year-old girl at a bus stop as well as a another 2000 rape of a 14-year-old girl. The 42-year-old suspect became the first person arrested and convicted in Baltimore under the DNA arrestee collection law. This man was a career offender with an extensive list of drug and robbery arrests.

In the case ruled on by the Court of Appeals yesterday, a Salisbury man was arrested and convicted of first degree rape and sentenced to life in prison in October 2010, due to DNA evidence originally collected from a previous assault charge in 2009. This collected DNA was linked to DNA taken from an unsolved case in September 2003, when a woman was raped and robbed at gunpoint in her home.

A man from Weyworth, Massachusetts, was arrested by the Weyworth Police on September 21, 2010, for the brutal rape of a 17-year-old girl in the basement of a church in 1995––a case that had remained unsolved for 16 years.  This offender had DNA taken in Maryland for a homicide arrest and was incarcerated in Maryland at the time. Maryland officials contacted Weyworth police and they came to Maryland to swab his DNA.  He was arrested after the positive match. This offender is a career criminal and was already serving a life sentence in Maryland for two other rapes. He will now have additional time added to this sentence. Police could not have made an arrest without the positive DNA comparison.

Since the arrestee/charged database law is only three years old, we are nowhere near reaching its full potential as a crime fighting tool.  As we have seen with the convicted offender database, as the number of samples in the database expands, the number of positive comparisons and identified offenders increases exponentially.

Any experienced public safety professional knows the majority of violent crimes are committed by a small group of repeat offenders.  Even while awaiting trial on one offense, these individuals are not hesitant to prey upon our citizens and commit additional crimes.  It is just common sense to believe that if we can take a criminal off the street sooner, we will reduce the chances that he or she will commit additional crimes.

While nationally, Maryland is viewed as a leader in crime fighting innovation, our streets are still far too violent.  When courts fail to recognize the need of our people to be protected in a fair and just manner, we go backwards, not forwards.  That is something we cannot afford to do, given our responsibility to protect human life.

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