County police will suspend collecting DNA evidence in some cases

The Baltimore County Police Department announced Friday that, in the wake of a Maryland Court of Appeals opinion, it will discontinue collection of DNA samples at the time of arrest from suspects charged with certain violent crimes.

But in a press release, Police Chief James Johnson expressed his displeasure over the ruling, and said he hopes it will be reversed.

"Our job is public safety, and DNA collection is an invaluable tool for helping us protect citizens from criminals," Johnson said in the statement. "I have serious concerns about this ruling."

On April 24 the Maryland Court of Appeals ruled 5-2 in the case, Alonzo Jay King Jr. vs. State of Maryland, that the collection of DNA violated a suspect's Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable search and seizure.

According to the Baltimore Sun, the case centered on Alonzo Jay King Jr.'s conviction in a 2003 rape case. He had been found guilty after his DNA was taken following a 2009 arrest on unrelated assault charges. King's sentence to life in prison on the rape conviction was overturned and the case ordered back to the Wicomico County Circuit Court for a new trial.

The Baltimore County Police statement said the ruling, "greatly limited law enforcement's ability to collect DNA from persons arrested and charged."

According to the county, DNA collection from arrested suspects has led to the closure of 16 cases since January 2009, when the law took effect.

One of those cases, police said, involved a 42-year-old Baltimore County man — who police described as a "career offender with a long list of drug and robbery arrests, as well as serious sexual offenses involving young girls."

In 2010, he man was arrested, convicted of first-degree rape and sentenced to life in prison, police said, due in part to DNA evidence collected in February 2009, when he was arrested for the sexual assault of his 7- and 8-year-old female cousins a year earlier.

County police said the DNA evidence collected from that arrest matched the DNA collected at the scene of a 2004 rape of a 13-year-old girl, as well as a 2000 rape of a 14-year-old girl.

"We got this criminal off the streets for good," Johnson said. "Without the DNA evidence, it's possible that we would not have been able to do that."

Although county police have stopped collecting DNA from suspects who have been charged with qualifying felonies, the department said Johnson has instructed officers to note suspects' eligibility for collection on their arrest reports.

"This will facilitate the department's ability to collect the sample in the future, should the state successfully appeal the Court of Appeals' decision," the statement said.

The Sun reported April 25 that Gov.Martin O'Malley, Baltimore's mayor and several other state and local officials called for an appeal of the court ruling.

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