Thursday, September 4, 2008

Environmental Justice and DNA in Maryland

The Maryland Legislative Black Caucus, Maryland NAACP, ACLU and the State Public Defenders Office are accusing Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley's administration of reneging on safeguards in a new law that expands police powers to collect DNA samples from crime suspects. The conflict arises out of whether DNA samples are taken from any arrested suspect or from those formally charged for specific violent crimes. The critics say they specifically negotiated exclusion of general arrect suspects with Governor O'Malley before supporting the legislation. Now they feel betrayed. There is also concern about disposing of DNA once an arrested person is cleared. The critics want the samples expunged if charges are dropped or a suspect is cleared. The critics also believe the regulations do not give clear instructions on how to make sure the samples are removed from federal databases.

Specifically, the conflict focuses on a word because the regulations allow police to take a sample from an "arrestee," which they interpret as someone being booked but not charged. But the governor's office calls an "arrestee" a person against whom a written accusation of a crime has been made and believe it is at that point the law allows police to take a DNA sample. The regulations were issued last month and now police officers and state prosecutors are being trained to implement the new regulation. The law takes effect in January.

Although DNA testing is a very good crime-fighting tool that has also proven effective in exonerating innocent people, it seems clear that generally collecting samples from suspects when they are arrested is too intrusive and violates the civil liberties of those who are exonerated. The state's previous policy was to take samples for its database after convictions. The black caucus has called for legislative hearings on the regulations and vowed to press the administration to change them. (The Washington Post, 9/4/08)

1 comment:

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