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The facts behind the debate's DNA claims

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Wednesday, October 13, 2010:

The Fact Checker

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DNA, which is often called the gold standard of forensic evidence, became the hotly contested subject of a different sort of forensics during Monday's campaign debate between Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) and former governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R).

As the two battled over their records on public safety, O'Malley accused the former governor of dumping a load of lab samples in his lap when Ehrlich left office.

"When I was elected," O'Malley said, "we were left a 24,000 sample DNA backlog, a backlog that was allowed to grow under the former governor, a backlog that they never bothered to address, along with another 15,000 samples that should have been taken. We've now cleared that backlog."

Actually, a state legislative audit put the number slightly higher.

dna.jpgAs even the most casual observer of TV cop dramas now knows, DNA is the chemical that acts as a unique operational manual for every human being and, like fingerprints, has been in use as a crime-fighting tool in the United States since 1987. The implication of O'Malley's attack was clearly that Ehrlich's administration had neglected its duties to process a mountain of DNA samples that could help catch criminals.

Ehrlich accused O'Malley of using a half-truth to attack the former administration's record. Although not disputing that O'Malley inherited a lot of DNA samples, the former governor argued that Maryland also had never collected DNA in such large volumes until Ehrlich pushed a measure that expanded the use of DNA in law enforcement. Ehrlich's campaign also notes that the former governor also cut the ribbon on a $30 million Maryland State Police Science Laboratory in Pikesville that opened in October 2006 with the latest in DNA-processing equipment.

Midway through his term, Ehrlich did urge the General Assembly to pass a law that would change the way the samples were collected by requiring certain convicted criminals to submit to DNA testing at the time of sentencing. Under the law that was then in place, DNA samples had been collected only after a criminal entered a correctional facility or at a later date.

Ehrlich's measure, which passed both chambers unanimously, was signed into law on May 26, 2005. And by any account, the new law - which required that all criminals convicted of a felony, fourth-degree burglary or breaking and entering a motor vehicle to provide a DNA sample at sentencing -- vastly expanded the DNA database.

Law enforcement officials collected about 10,000 DNA samples in 2005 alone, compared with about 37,000 samples that had been collected in the previous 10 years, according to testimony given to lawmakers at the time by the lab director for the State Police Forensic Sciences Division. A 2007 report by the Office of Legislative Audits put the number of collected DNA samples even higher. But the audit also supported the notion that the samples had not been analyzed or catalogued in a timely fashion.

The 2007 legislative audit of the Maryland State Police found that 21,400 DNA samples had been collected from criminals between May 2005 and May 2006 -- but they also had not been analyzed or entered into the database. Neither had 3,700 samples received from an independent contractor between July 2004 and September 2005, the legislative audit says.

-- Frederick Kunkle

News You Should Know

O'Malley meets with EDF officials on Calvert Cliffs
Thumbnail image for calvertcliffs.jpg"Gov. Martin O'Malley met Tuesday with officials of Constellation Energy Group's French partner to discuss ways to revive the proposed third reactor at Calvert Cliffs, after the Baltimore company pulled out of federal financing negotiations this weekend, sharply setting back plans for the plant," writes The Baltimore Sun's Hannah Cho. "O'Malley is one of several state and local officials who hope to keep the project alive and save thousands of jobs to build and operate the $9.6 billion reactor in Southern Maryland. Constellation and Electricite de France formed Unistar Nuclear Energy to develop nuclear power plants in the United States, including a third unit at Calvert Cliffs. But Baltimore-based Constellation said last weekend that the terms of a proposed federal loan guarantee were unreasonable and would add $880 million to the venture's cost, according to a letter sent Friday to the U.S. Department of Energy. The partners had already spent $600 million on the project."

Ehrlich identified as Democrat in prominent voters guide
Thumbnail image for Ehrlich-campaign.jpg"A voters guide published by the League of Women Voters of Montgomery County has misidentified Republican gubernatorial candidate Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. as a Democrat," writes Sarah Breitenbach in the Gazette. "The 28-page guide, published earlier this month, includes information on the qualifications and positions of state and local candidates. The league corrected the guide on its website but does not plan to remove 70,000 print copies of the publication in circulation at Montgomery County libraries, government offices and retail locations, co-president Diane Hibino said Monday morning."

Clinton visit will include rally for O'Malley
BillClinton.jpg"The previously reported O'Malley campaign fundraiser featuring former President Bill Clinton will now also include a public rally, the governor's re-election campaign said," writes The Sun's Annie Linskey. "O'Malley's team sent out an email, ostensibly from Clinton himself, inviting supporters to attend. It will be on Thursday Oct. 21 and the exact time and location are still to be determined, said campaign manager Tom Russell. The timing works well for the campaign's get out the vote efforts: It is the day before early voting starts."

Maryland, others states to announce joint probe of lenders
"Attorneys general from dozens of states are set to announce Wednesday a joint investigation into the nation's biggest lenders, but will stop short of calling for a moratorium on foreclosures in their jurisdictions, officials said," writes The Post's Ariana Eunjung Cha and Dina Elboghdady. "The multistate investigation, which includes Maryland, Virginia, California, Indiana, and Ohio, among others, will initially focus on whether Bank of America, J.P. Morgan Chase, Ally Financial and other large mortgage companies made misleading or fraudulent statements to evict struggling borrowers from their homes."

Post editorial trumpets silence of O'Malley, Ehrlich on pensions
"MARYLAND GOV. Martin O'Malley (D) and his Republican rival, former governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., have staged their first debate; several more are scheduled," The Post editorial says. "They've each poured thousands of words into television ads, campaign appearances, speeches, interviews, and Twitter and Facebook postings. Yet with precious few exceptions -- a few sentences on Mr. Ehrlich's Web site -- neither has cared to publicly discuss the most daunting threat to Maryland's fiscal health: billions of dollars in pension and health-care bills coming due for retired teachers and former state employees, and no plan in place to pay them."


WJZ debate.jpg"Ehrlich got in occasional jabs on taxes and a few other issues, but scored no body blows or knockout punches. In other words, Ehrlich failed to do what he needed to. For that reason, O'Malley won the debate."
-- Richard Cross, a former Ehrlich aide, in a posting on his Cross Purposes blog following Monday's debate

"Debates matter only if we can use them as a teaching opportunity to talk about why it is so important to bring Bob Ehrlich back. It is the words of friends, neighbors, and family members that is going to win this election more than any debate ever could."
-- Brian Griffiths, assessing the debate on the Red Maryland blog

"Taken as a boxing match -- and it's hard not to abuse the metaphor, with two political heavyweights going at it -- O'Malley clearly won the debate on points. ... But if you were taking the beer test -- as in, which candidate would you rather have a beer with? -- Ehrlich came out on top."
-- Josh Kurtz, assessing the debate on Center Maryland

"Bob Ehrlich said he really liked the format of Monday's debate between himself and Gov. Martin O'Malley, but it's not clear the debate format liked him."
-- Len Lazarick, assessing the debate on

Coming Attractions: The Washington Post Debate

Debate banner.GIFThe latest on Thursday's Post debate between Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) and former governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) -- including an opportunity to submit questions -- is available on


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By John Wagner  | October 13, 2010; 7:30 AM ET
Categories:  First Click  
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"But if you were taking the beer test -- as in, which candidate would you rather have a beer with? -- Ehrlich came out on top."

The "beer test" should not be about which candidate would you like to share a beer with (which in any case you'd have to be a pretty strange egg in the first place to prefer the prudish Ehrlich over the Irishman O'Malley) but which candidate would rather have a beer with you.

There are very few Republicans, and Robert Ehrlich is certainly not one of those few, who would stoop to share a beer with the lowly likes of you and me. Democrats are generally more gregarious.

Posted by: FergusonFoont | October 14, 2010 11:22 AM | Report abuse

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