I haven’t posted anything about Casey Anthony trial. I’d pretty much like to keep it that way because, really, I don’t know anything about the case. On the other hand, I know there’s a long and painful history of laws like this:
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
July 6, 2011
Contacts: Michelle Crowder, “Caylee’s Law” petition-starter, 918-289-8479 (CDT)
Brian Purchia, Director of Communications, email@example.com, 202-253-4330 (PDT)
Rebecca Buckwalter-Poza, Campaign Director, firstname.lastname@example.org, 919-423-4783 (EDT)
CAMPAIGN TO CREATE “CAYLEE’S LAW” GOES VIRAL
Oklahoma woman calls for parents who fail to notify police of missing child to be charged with felony; more than 37,000 supporters join in less than 24 hours
WASHINGTON, DC – More than 37,000 people in all 50 states have joined a Change.org campaign calling for a federal law — called “Caylee’s Law” — that would make the failure of a parent to notify law enforcement of a child’s disappearance a felony.
Casey Anthony was found “not guilty” of first-degree murder or manslaughter on Tuesday in the case of her two-year-old daughter Caylee’s death. One of the central controversies of the case has been the fact that Anthony never notified law enforcement that her daughter was missing. Caylee was last seen on June 16, 2008; grandmother Cindy Anthony notified the police on July 15, a month later.
After hearing the verdict and seeing a Facebook page response, Oklahoman Michelle Crowder started a Change.org petition asking Congress to create “Caylee’s Law,” making it a federal offense and a felony for a parent or guardian to fail to report a child’s disappearance to law enforcement.
Nearly 2,000 people have signed the “Caylee’s Law” petition each hour since its creation, making it the fastest-growing campaign on Change.org.
“When I saw that Casey Anthony had been found not guilty in the murder of little Caylee, and that she was only being convicted of lying to the police about her disappearance, I was sickened; I could not believe she was not being charged with child neglect or endangerment, or even obstruction of justice,” said petition-starter Michelle Crowder.
“I saw a page on Facebook proposing that a law be made, but I saw nothing about a petition being started for it. So, I decided to start one on Change.org because I have signed several petitions on the site and I knew it would be a way to reach people and hopefully get something done.”
Michelle continued, “I am hoping that this will be made into a federal law so that no other child’s life, disappearance, and/or death is treated in the manner that poor Caylee’s was treated. No child deserves that.”
“There is extensive debate about this issue, and this campaign has been remarkable,” said Change.org founder Ben Rattray. “In less than 24 hours, a woman in Oklahoma has recruited tens of thousands of supporters for her cause. Change.org is about empowering anyone, anywhere, to take action on the issues that are important to them, and it is the perfect platform for this record-breaking campaign.”
Live signature totals from the “Caylee’s Law” petition on Change.org:
Facebook page that prompted Michelle to start the Change.org campaign:
Facebook page tied to Michelle’s Change.org petition:
(I’ve left all the links in the press release so you can see the startling amount of self-promotion involved. Most of those links that appear to lead to a news story — e.g. “thousands of supporters” or “record-breaking campaign” lead right back to the Change.org petition page.)
You don’t have to follow news about our criminal justice system for very long to know that laws named after (alleged) crime victims are often just legislative theater (“Behold! I have done something about this problem!”), in which case they are usually a poorly-written overreaction to a single incident, and they usually do more harm than good.
Here’s the text of the petition:
Create Caylee’s Law, Not Reporting Child’s Death Should Be a Felony
On July 5, 2011, at 1:15 pm CST, Casey Anthony was found not guilty of first degree murder in the death of her daughter Caylee Anthony. The only charges she now faces are four counts of falsifying police reports, each of which only carries a 1 year prison term. Since she has been in jail since August 2008, she will be out of jail ENTIRELY too soon.
I’m writing to propose that a new law be put into effect making it a felony for a parent, legal guardian, or caretaker to not notify law enforcement of the death of their child, accidental or otherwise, within 1 hour of said death being discovered. This way there will be no more cases like Casey Anthony’s in the courts, and no more innocent children will have to go without justice.
Also, make it a felony for a parent, legal guardian, or caretaker to not notify law enforcement of the disappearance of a child within 24 hours, so proper steps can be taken to find that child before it’s too late.
The case of Caylee Anthony was tragic, and there is no reason for another case like this one to hit the courts. Let’s do what is necessary to prevent another case like this from happening.
Offhand, I see at least four problems.
First of all, why should this be a federal crime? The related crimes — murder, manslaughter, endangering a child — are not generally federal crimes.
Second, does it really make sense to require parents to notify law enforcement within one hour? My God. I don’t have children, but my guess is that if you discover your child dead, it could take you an hour before you even have the strength to get up off the floor.
Third, most children who die in the home, or otherwise in their parents’ care, are not murder victims. They die of accidents or medical conditions. Thus, nearly all parents who suffer the death of a child — and are therefore subject to this law — are not actually criminals. They did nothing wrong. And they know they did nothing wrong. So, in the midst of mind-numbing tragedy, they might not realize they’re supposed to call the cops. After all, it’s not like the cops can help.
Fourth, the petition says parents are supposed to notify law enforcement of the disappearance within 24 hours. I don’t know if it’s true, but haven’t we all heard that the police won’t even begin a missing person investigation until at least 24 hours have passed? So why try to report it before then? And if we’re talking about a troublesome teenager, involved with drugs, I’d imagine that disappearances of several days are not unusual. And if you suspect your child is involved with drugs, calling the police is probably a terrible idea.
Most of the problems I’ve mentioned might sound like they could be handled with a carefully drafted law. For example, the requirement to report a disapperance could be limited only to young children like Caylee. That’s the logical and sensible thing to do. Then again, it would be logical and sensible if laws against child molestation did not apply to 18-year-old boys who have consensual sex with their 16-year-old girlfriends, and yet they do. Logic and sense often go out the window when children are involved.
The problem is that laws like this — laws named after people — are usually passed for show, and so thoughtful, careful drafting is not a priority. If someone actually does propose a Caylee’s Law (and I’m guessing someone will) it may not have any of the flaws I’ve suggested here, but it’s a good bet that it will have something wrong with it.
There’s also a good chance it will be loaded up with unrelated provisions. After all, why should it apply only to children? Don’t we care about the elderly too? Or the mentally impaired? And isn’t there something else on the law enforcement wishlist we could add to the bill?
And then there’s the issue of how the law will actually be applied. I predict that many years will go by before the law is used in a case similar to the Casey Anthony trial. On the other hand, if history is any guide, a law like this will probably turn into a de-facto sentencing enhancement/plea-bargaining chip.
For example, when a parent kills his own child in a drunk-driving accident, in addition to the DUI, reckless endangerment, manslaughter, or whatever else would be typical, he might find himself charged with a Caylee’s Law violation because he was too drunk to report the death in a timely fashion. It’s just another charge on the pile to get a little more jail time.
Or maybe the missing-child reporting requirement will be used to harass the families of suspected criminals: “You say you don’t know where your son is? And you haven’t seen him since Friday? That’s more than 24 hours. Tell us where he is, or we’ll arrest you right now.”
None of this will address the problem that has everybody so upset: The impression that Casey Anthony got away with doing evil because there just wasn’t enough evidence. Caylee’s Law would do nothing to fix that. Instead, Caylee’s law would criminalize certain actions or inactions, not because they are especially evil, but because they are easy to prove. And that’s no way to write criminal law.
Update: Radley Balko says it better:
This is a bad way to make public policy. 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?
This is exactly what I mean about the trouble with hastily-passed laws. People could go to jail for breaking this law, and Crowder didn’t even spend a day doing research. That’s irresponsible and dangerous.