More than 1.1 million people have put their names on an internet petition demanding a new federal law that would make it a felony for a parent to not notify law enforcement of a missing child within 24 hours or of a dead child within an hour.
The proposed “Caylee’s Law” was proposed by a woman seeking vengeance for the manner in which Florida mother Casey Anthony likely got away with the murder of her young child named Caylee Anthony. She failed to report the 2-year-old girl missing or dead and instead had gone out partying with her friends. Caylee’s grandmother eventually reported her missing.
According to Breaking News Online, supporters are explaining why they support this law:
Tiffany Borders of Columbus, Ohio, signed the Change.org petition and wrote, “I am a mother of 3 beautiful girls, and if for any reason they were gone for even an hour and I didn’t know where they were I would be frantic and call the police, the national guard, the news media, anyone who could help me. I hope this petition changes the law and helps hold parent[s] accountable.”
And we learn that more than 18 states are considering versions of this law. Reactions such as this are common in the aftermath of quirky, high-profile charges. But over at Huffington Post, civil libertarian writer Radley Balko explains why these proposed laws are short-sighted. The woman who developed the petition concedes she didn’t consult with any law enforcement officials before coming up with her 1-hour and 24-hour limits. She doesn’t know if there are any legitimate reasons why an innocent parent might fail to immediately report a child’s death (e.g. shock, passing out, mental breakdown). She didn’t consult with forensic pathologists about whether time of death is even able to be precisely determined in a way that would make the law enforceable. Or what if a child dies in her sleep and parents don’t realize it until the morning. What if grandma was taking a nap while some freak accident happened to the child in her care?
And even the 24-hours-to-report-a-missing-child requirement is problematic, Balko says. He provides a few examples:
When teenager Rosie Larsen is abducted and murdered in the new AMC drama The Killing, it takes two days for her parents to notice she’s missing. They thought she was spending the night at a friend’s house, and she and her friends often rotated sleeping over at one another’s homes on the weekends.The Killing is fiction, but it isn’t an implausible scenario. Again, are we really so angry about the Casey Anthony verdict that we’re prepared to charge grieving parents with a felony because it takes them longer than some arbitrary deadline to notice their child is missing?
Such a requirement might have parents flooding police departments with reports of missing children later found to be fine. Or what if police departments responded to these over-reports by simply failing to take much interest in any missing children cases, including the really important ones?
Balko reiterates his concern about laws made in anger:
That anger is understandable. But anger is a bad reason to make public policy. New laws, especially laws with serious criminal sanctions, demand careful consideration: Will the law actually address the problem it is intended to address? Is it enforceable? What are some possible unintended consequences of this law? Could it be abused by police and prosecutors?
Read his whole piece — it’s worthwhile. But it’s clear that passing an ill-considered law will do little other than make some people feel better about the murder that Casey Anthony may have gotten away with.