Because many people reacted with anger to the Casey Anthony verdict, lots of state legislators saw a chance to be a hero to parents everywhere. More than 30 states have pending legislation to implement “Caylee’s Law”—an attempt to make sure that the next Casey Anthony gets punished as harshly as everyone thinks the real Casey Anthony should have been punished.
“Caylee’s Law,” a proposed federal bill that would charge parents with a felony if they fail to report a missing child within 24 hours, or if they fail to report the death of a child within an hour.
Radley Balko points out the many reasons that such a law would be a stupendously bad idea, verging on being evil itself.
In an interview with CNN, Crowder concedes that she didn’t consult with a single law enforcement official before coming up with her 24-hour and 1-hour limits. This raises some questions. How did she come up with those cutoffs? Did she consult with any grief counselors to see if there may be innocuous reasons why an innocent person who just witnessed a child’s death might not immediately report it, such as shock, passing out, or some other sort of mental breakdown? Did she consult with a forensic pathologist to see if it’s even possible to pin down the time of death with the sort of precision you’d need to make Caylee’s Law enforceable? Have any of the lawmakers who have proposed or are planning to propose this law actually consulted with anyone with some knowledge of these issues?
What if a child dies while sleeping? When would you start the clock on the parent’s one-hour window to report? From the time the parent discovers the child is dead, or from the time the child actually dies? If it’s the former, can you really believe what a parent tells you if he knows a felony charge hinges on his answer? What if a parent or babysitter missed the deadline because she fell asleep at the time the child was playing outside and suffered a fatal accident? You could argue this is evidence of bad parenting or inattentive babysitting, but under those circumstances, do you really want to charge a grieving parent or heartbroken babysitter with a felony?
The portion of the bill that requires a parent to report a missing child within 24 hours is just as fraught with problems. When does that clock start? From the time the child actually gets abducted, gets lost, or is somehow killed, or at the time the parents noticed the child was missing? How do you pinpoint the time that they “noticed”? 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 this 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?
The law and the attention it attracts could also cause problems of overcompliance. How many parents will notify the authorities with false reports within an hour or two, out of fear of becoming suspects? How many such calls and wasted police resources on false alarms will it take before police grow jaded and begin taking note of missing child reports, but don’t bother investigating them until much later? How many legitimate abductions will then go uninvestigated during the critical first few hours because they were lost in the pile of false reports inspired by Caylee’s Law?
It isn’t difficult to come up with other scenarios where innocent people may get ensnared in Caylee’s Law.