WASHINGTON — A Maryland DNA law being challenged in the U.S. Supreme Court helped lead to 43 convictions over the past four years, but state data shows the majority of the convictions could eventually have happened even without the new law.
For years, Maryland required people convicted of serious crimes to provide a DNA sample. The sample, taken from a swab of saliva, was then compared against a database of DNA evidence from crime scenes, and some old cases were able to be solved. Maryland changed its law in 2009, however, so that people had to provide the saliva sample when they were arrested on charges of committing certain violent crimes — before going to trial.
The change is at the center of a U.S. Supreme Court case being argued Tuesday. Opponents say the law violates a person’s constitutional right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. But supporters of the law, including Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley and Attorney General Douglas Gansler, say taking DNA from arrestees is an important law enforcement tool used by 27 other states and the federal government. They say it is no more invasive than taking a person’s fingerprints.
“Law enforcement has been taking fingerprints forever,” Gansler said Friday.
The state has now taken more than 33,000 DNA samples as a result of the expansion. Those samples have led to 73 arrests and 43 convictions.