Anne Arundel to collect samples for state DNA database

County to help in effort to reduce backlog of convicts not in system

April 06, 2005|By Anica Butler | Anica Butler,SUN STAFF

Anne Arundel County joined seven other Maryland jurisdictions yesterday that have agreed to collect genetic samples from convicted criminals for the state's DNA database - helping the state police whittle away at a backlog of unsampled convicts that had grown to an estimated 13,500.

The partnership is part of an effort by Col. Thomas E. "Tim" Hutchins, state police superintendent, to sign up other law enforcement agencies to help collect the samples, which are then sent to the state police crime lab to be entered into the state's DNA database.

The state police DNA effort was criticized in a legislative audit in July. It found that the agency failed to collect DNA samples from thousands of felons and that many of the collected samples had not been analyzed or entered into the database. Working with local courts and law enforcement agencies is an attempt to reduce the collection backlog, Hutchins said yesterday. However, the effort won't affect the bottleneck of entering samples into the database, said Jay Tobin, director of the forensic sciences division of the state police.

State law requires that DNA samples be collected from convicted sex offenders, all felons and those convicted of certain misdemeanors. Because the law has changed to include more convicted criminals, the number of samples to be taken - and the backlog - has increased, Hutchins said.

Tobin estimates the number of uncollected samples at nearly 13,500. Of that number, about 300 to 400 offenders are in county lockups, and 7,500 of those felons are in the Division of Parole and Probation. With county courts and sheriffs joining in, convicted felons who are being released on parole or probation will have DNA samples taken before they leave custody. In Anne Arundel County, 15 deputies have been trained to use an oral swab to collect the samples, said Sheriff George F. Johnson IV.

"The ones who come here and stand trial and are released without incarceration, we'll get them right before they leave the building," he said.

There was no one in the lockup yesterday who needed a sample taken, Johnson said, but one was taken from a convicted felon last week. The process takes less than five minutes, he said.

The state police tested the partnership in Prince George's County, and now seven other counties, including Anne Arundel, Harford and Charles, have signed on, according to the state police.

Hutchins said the partnerships with the counties, and also with the Division of Correction and the state Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, should help reduce the backlog in sample collection.

"Once we get the backlog done, it's just sustainment," Hutchins said.

However, Tobin said, the real backlog is in getting those samples into the database.

After the DNA is collected, it's processed by the state police, then sent to a lab in Virginia, Tobin said. Once the processed samples come back, a state police chemist examines each sample for quality control before it is entered into the database. Because each one is looked at individually, Tobin said, the process can be time-consuming. The partnership announced yesterday will not help with that backlog, he said, but "in my lab, we utilize every available resource."

Since the inception of the database in 1994, more than 37,000 DNA samples have been collected, and nearly 22,000 have been entered into the database, Hutchins said yesterday, adding that 276 criminal investigations have been aided by the database.

The collection of DNA from convicted felons has not been without controversy. In August, the database narrowly survived a constitutional challenge in the state Court of Appeals. Three judges said in a dissenting opinion that the intrusion of collecting a DNA sample "certainly is great when the vast amount of personal and private information DNA contains is considered."

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