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Sunday, July 10, 2011

Caylee's Law

In the American federal system, most criminal cases are matters of state law and jurisdiction. Accordingly, the Casey Anthony case has spurred discussion in statehouses. Associated Press reports:
Lawmakers outraged over Casey Anthony's acquittal have responded by proposing so-called Caylee's laws that would allow prosecutors to bring felony charges against parents who do not quickly report missing children.

The new measures were triggered, at least in part, by an online petition that had more than 700,000 signatures Friday. Some questioned whether a new law would do any good because the circumstances of the Anthony case were so rare, but lawmakers in at least 16 states have already floated proposals reacting to the verdict.

"Casey Anthony broke new ground in brazenness," said Florida state Rep. Scott Plakon, who is sponsoring the proposal in his state. "It's very sad that we even need a law like this, but Casey Anthony just proved that we do as unfortunate as that is."


Florida's proposal would make it a felony for a parent or other caregiver to not report a child under the age of 12 missing after 48 hours. It also makes it a felony to not report a child's death or "location of a child's corpse" to police within two hours of the death.

Had Florida's measure been in place and Anthony been convicted, she could have faced another 15 years behind bars.

Other states are considering similar measures and the online petition at, started by an Oklahoma woman, calls for a federal law.

The spate of legislative and grassroots activity follows a verdict in a murder case that transfixed much of the nation and made international headlines when the jury's decision was announced on Tuesday (July 5). While Anthony was found not guilty, The Christian Science Monitor notes that one of the most "unfathomable" aspects of the case was that no one reported Caylee Anthony missing until more than a month after her disappearance.

State lawmakers want to ensure that doesn't happen again. "You wouldn't think that you would actually have to require a parent or guardian to report a child missing or dead," a state's attorney said of the legislation being proposed in Maryland, "but we're in an age where there is a need here."

Others are wary of what they see as hasty legislation that comes in response to a widely unpopular verdict. Plenty of criminal statutes are already named after high-profile crime victims, and some of them particularly sex-offender statutes, such as "Jessica's Law," "Megan's Law" and the Adam Walsh Act have had unintended consequences that have led to court battles and complaints that lawmakers went too far.

"My first reaction is that too often we pass legislation that is knee-jerk, thinking we solve a problem, and we don't look at the consequences," Stewart Greenleaf, the chair of the Pennsylvania House Judiciary Committee, tells The Philadelphia Inquirer. "That's not good legislation."