In an attempt to keep one of his signature initiatives alive, Gov. Martin O'Malley wants state lawmakers to reauthorize police to collect DNA samples from crime suspects before the current statute expires later this year.
The release of the Democratic governor's legislative agenda comes about a month before the U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments on whether the state's 2008 law is constitutional or a violation of a suspect's Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure.
For that reason, repealing the sunset provision only makes sense, said Scott Shellenberger, state's attorney for Baltimore County and a supporter of post-arrest DNA collection.
"If it's unconstitutional, it doesn't really matter what the legislature does," Shellenberger said. "If the Supreme Court upholds the law, it doesn't seem to be a good use of resources" to allow the law to expire.
In Maryland, law enforcement is authorized to collect a DNA sample when a suspect is arrested for committing or attempting to commit a violent crime or burglary. The information is entered into a database, which has resulted in 73 arrests and 42 convictions since the law took effect in January 2009. Additional investigations are continuing.
Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. authorized Maryland law enforcement to continue collecting the samples until the Supreme Court rules on the constitutionality of the law.
Civil liberties advocates say taking DNA samples before a person is convicted of a crime is counter to the fundamentals of the American justice system that declare a person innocent until proved guilty. The law's opponents also say a database with sensitive genetic data has the potential to be abused.
Courts across the country have been split on the constitutionality of the practice.
The sunset provision was added as an amendment during legislative negotiations, chiefly with the state's Legislative Black Caucus. The caucus was concerned, among other matters, that the database would contain a disproportionate number of samples from African-Americans.
The caucus hasn't decided whether to support the governor's attempt to reauthorize the law.
"The Legislative Black Caucus has not reviewed the governor's proposal, and at this time reserves opposition, as ultimately the constitutionality of this particular law will be determined by the Supreme Court later this year," the caucus' executive director, LaVita Simpson, said.
The high court is set to hear arguments in the DNA case on Feb. 26.
The case in question involves Alonzo Jay King Jr., who was sentenced to life in prison for the 2003 rape of a 53-year-old Salisbury woman in her home. King was charged with the rape after police took his DNA when he was arrested in 2009 on unrelated assault charges.
In April, the Maryland Court of Appeals struck down the law authorizing post-arrest DNA collection, but the state attorney general appealed to the Supreme Court.
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