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Md.Court Upholds Use of DNA Databank To Solve Cold Crimes

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) -- A DNA databank that has allowed the state to connect suspects to more than 130 unsolved crimes is constitutional and does not violate the rights of prison inmates who are required to submit to DNA testing, the state's highest court ruled.

The decision by the Court of Appeals was issued Tuesday -- the same day Anne Arundel County police announced they had used a DNA sample to link a convicted murderer to the killings of three women in the 1980s and 1990s.

The appeals court reversed a ruling in Montgomery County Circuit Court that the law requiring people convicted of serious crimes to submit to DNA testing violated protections against unreasonable searches and seizures contained in the 4th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The decision from Maryland's highest court was announced in a brief order that said a majority of the judges agreed that the lower court ruling was incorrect. The order did not say how the seven judges voted on the decision and did not give reasons for the ruling. Those will come in a written opinion to be issued later.

Attorney General J. Joseph Curran, who argued the case before the Court of Appeals last month, said Wednesday the DNA database not only has helped to solve crimes where there were no suspects, but has helped prove that some people convicted of crimes were innocent.

Anne Arundel County police charged Alexander W. Watson Jr. with first degree murder in the killing of two women in 1986 and 1988 and a 14-year-old high school freshman in 1993. He was linked to the crimes when his DNA matched that taken from the victims.

Barring some other development, "there's a likelihood they would never be solved otherwise," County Police Chief P. Thomas Shanahan said when he announced filing of the charges against Watson.

As a result of the appeals court ruling Tuesday, prosecutors in Montgomery County will be able to continue with the trial of Charles Raines on rape charges.

Raines was charged when police investigating an unsolved rape submitted a DNA sample from the assault victim and got an apparent match with Raines. A second DNA sample was taken from Raines, and laboratory testing concluded that there was only one chance in 6 billion that the DNA from the rape came from someone other than Raines.

Curran said DNA testing "is a minimal intrusion" on inmates.

"It takes less than a minute to take a cheek swab, but it has a very significant government benefit," he said.

State police have collected more than 29,000 DNA samples and have analyzed more than 18,000 and entered them into the database. Curran said during Court of Appeals arguments that police had been able to connect suspects to 131 previously unsolved crimes.

During arguments before the Court of Appeals, Stephen Mercer, Raines' lawyer, told the judges it was unconstitutional to maintain the database to link suspects to unsolved crimes.

Asked by Judge Irma Raker why the Maryland court should declare the law unconstitutional when similar laws have been upheld in all other challenges in state courts, he replied, "Fundamentally, they are wrong."

Mercer argued that the law would put the state on "a slippery slope" toward widespread invasion of privacy rights of Marylanders.

"Kids going to school, public officials, judges? Who's next?" he said.

But Curran said in response to the appeals court ruling that a person convicted of a crime "has a lower expectation of privacy when he's on probation or when he's in jail."

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