Joining the ranks of AMBER Alert and Code Adam is another missing child system inspired by an infamous case: ‘Caylee’s Law’. Caylee Anthony, the deceased two-year-old whose trial captured the nation’s attention in 2011, inspired the law after her young mother, Casey Anthony, failed to report Caylee as missing for over a month. Although the jury acquitted Casey Anthony on charges of first-degree murder, aggravated child-abuse, and aggravated manslaughter of a child, they declared her guilty on four misdemeanor counts of providing false information to a law enforcement officer. Judge Belvin Perry sentenced her to one year and $1000 for each false information count to be served consecutively. Incorporating her time already served and credit for good behavior, Anthony was released from prison on July 17th, 2011, just a couple days after sentencing. America was outraged.
In response, Michelle Crowder of Oklahoma proposed ‘Caylee’s Law’ on Change.org, a petition-hosting website, suggesting increasing the penalty to a fourth-degree felony for failing to report a missing child within twenty-four hours of their disappearance or one hour of their death. The petition quickly went viral and garnered over 1,300,000 signatures, pressuring lawmakers across the country to design such a law.
The backlash to the proposed law was almost as strong. Critics cited ineffective previous laws inspired by dead children and cautioned against making lasting legislature out of anger and fresh wounds. A Huffington Post article criticized the impracticality of the one hour and twenty-four-hour cut-offs, demonstrating the difficulty of determining the time of death so precisely and offering complicating hypothetical situations. What happens if your child is at a sleepover and doesn’t call home? Under this law, would you have to call your child at summer camp every day? What happens if your infant dies in his or her sleep? You might discover the death several hours later. Do we really want to punish a grieving parent in that situation with a felony? Although common sense should guide judicial rulings in these situations, there are many current examples of gross and insensible violations of justice.
Critics also fear that the law will make cautious parents falsely report absent children as missing, clogging up the police department’s missing person cases. The excess of false cases would obscure the real missing children cases and prevent them from being investigated in those first few crucial hours. Critics claim that the law will be unenforceable and ineffective in its goal of protecting children, merely entrapping innocent parents.
Despite these criticisms, several states have moved ahead with legislation. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie passed a ‘Caylee’s Law’ in January 2012, making the failure to report a missing child age thirteen or younger after twenty-four hours a fourth-degree felony, punishable by up to eighteen months in prison and fines up to $10,000. Governor Rick Scott of Florida signed House Bill 37 into law in April, another variant of ‘Caylee’s Law.’ This law heightened to felony status the act of misleading a law enforcement official in a missing child case. Louisiana’s version of ‘Caylee’s Law’, House Bill 600, passed in early June, and declares that failure to report a missing child is punishable with up to 50 years in prison and $50,000. Overall, thirty-two states filed some form of the legislature in the past year to criminalize the failure to report a missing child.
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