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Black Caucus Members Protest DNA Bill Process

A bill to expand Maryland's collection of DNA samples from those arrested for violent crimes and burglary, a key component of Gov. Martin O'Malley's legislative agenda this year, continues to face opposition from black lawmakers and civil rights groups.

Members of the Legislative Black Caucus walked out of a meeting of House Democrats yesterday morning in an act of frustration, saying they felt marginalized in the discussion over whether to expand the state's DNA database.
The House of Delegates was scheduled to begin floor discussion on the bill yesterday, but legislative leaders postponed further action until Thursday to give lawmakers time to bring their amendments to the Judiciary Committee.

"We have an open-floor policy in the House Judiciary Committee," committee chairman Del. Joseph F. Vallario Jr. (D-Prince George's) told colleagues on the House floor.

Opponents to the bill -- who include some members of the Black Caucus as well as the NAACP and the ACLU -- say the legislation is too intrusive because it requires DNA collection from people before they are convicted of any crimes.

The original bill has been amended so that authorities would have to inform people of their right to expunge the sample if they are acquitted or if the charges against them are dropped. But the black caucus is seeking further concessions from O'Malley (D) and legislative leaders.

The caucus is preparing amendments to require that the samples be automatically expunged for people who are innocent, as well as to regulate how local crime labs process DNA samples, said caucus member Del. Aisha N. Braveboy (D-Prince George's).

"We are standing united behind that," Braveboy said. "There needs to be some amendments to this bill and it is our hope that the General Assembly will understand the amendments being offered by the black caucus and will support us."

O'Malley spokesman Christine Hansen said the governor is trying to reach a resolution.

"The governor is currently and has been working with members of the committee and the black caucus to address their concerns," Hansen said.

-- Philip Rucker

By Anne Bartlett  |  March 19, 2008; 8:01 AM ET
Categories:  General Assembly  
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This is absolutely unacceptable to have your privacy rights violated by being forced to participate in the DNA database when you have not been convicted of any crime. Since it is a statistical fact that African Americans, Hispanics and poor people are arrested more often than any other group, it appears that this legislation is designed to trample on the rights of these people. I do not see why DNA testing cannot be a part of the incarceration process once someone is convicted of a crime. It is an expensive process for every jurisdiction to perform DNA testing on everyone that is arrested (even if they might be innocent of any crime) and administratively no jurisdiction can guarantee that the DNA will be expunged once taken and it would be an expensive process for most exonerated arrestees to complete any process of expungement. We already know that few people know how or purse any record expungement anyway. Therefore, the liklihood that any DNA database entry will get expunged once taken is highly unlikely in the real world.

Posted by: G.Pope | March 19, 2008 1:29 PM | Report abuse

There's an old project that keeps rearing its ugly head. That project was called "the Violence Initiative" and one of its stated goals was to try to find "criminal genes", or genetic markers associated with crime and violence. They sought to collect and analyze DNA from persons convicted and incarcerated for violent crimes.

This was a search for commonalities in the DNA, and was entirely unrelated to the legal and investigatory uses of DNA in criminal cases.

Criminal cases have very strong procedural rules which govern the proper uses and applicability of evidence; the "Violence Initiative" was frequently accused of sloppy process. Among other things, due to the incarceration rates of blacks, as compared to other ethnicities -- an artifact of a racist era -- it seemed extremely likely that the main commonality that would ever be discovered by "the Violence Initiative" would be the commonality of skin color. "The Violence Initiative" was, short and simple, trying to use bad science to prove that Black Equals Criminal. For comparable bad science, try reading "the Bell Curve". The same people were behind both of those horrors, as near as anyone can tell.

The present proposal before the Assembly is just more of the same. Among other things, as written it would in effect be primarily collecting the DNA of anyone "arrested for driving while black", and regardless of failure to convict, that DNA information would be recorded.

To make matters worse, it's well known that the insurance industry is moving aggressively to collect DNA samples from everyone it can, in order to adjust the rates on a per-individual basis. If DNA is both history as well as identity, even more it's a roadmap to possible future illness and the insurance companies want to improve their profitability by excluding from coverage, on an individual and "scientific" basis, specific conditions such as breast cancer, skin cancer, multiple sclerosis, huntingtons and alzheimers, which are so financially devastating that they are the main reason to ever be insured.

The legislation is so fraught with perils of potential abuse that it must be rejected out of hand, and furthermore a study group should be convened which will detail all of the potential benefits and pitfalls of this sort of legislation, before such legislation could again be considered.

The Black Caucus is absolutely right to walk out on this, though actually they should walk right back in and soundly defeat this legislation as the exploitative piece of racist filth that it is.

Posted by: Thomas Hardman | March 19, 2008 1:58 PM | Report abuse

Unfortunately in our most liberal state, our civil liberties are becoming fewer and fewer.

Posted by: O'Malleyed Out | March 19, 2008 7:34 PM | Report abuse

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