The latest news from the Casey Anthony trial is a petition flying across the internet and even making its way into state legislatures across the nation for Caylee’s Law. The proposed law calls for a new felony offense for any person who either fails to report a missing child within 24 hours or fails to report the death of a child within 24 hours. The obvious purpose of the proposal is to fill the gap left in the Casey Anthony verdict.
The questions are whether it would be a good law and whether it would have even filled the gap in the Casey Anthony case. My initial answer to both is that I am not so sure. On its face, it certainly does not sound like a bad idea and the intentions are good. A missing child should always be reported immediately and same can be said of the a child who has died.
However, as with any new law proposed in the criminal arena, we must not simply get caught up in the heat of the moment and only look at the quick fix to the hot button case. There might be good intentions, but can the law be abused? Does it overreach? Is there already a law covering the offense?
In this case, some of the answers to those questions are cause for concern. In New Jersey, we already have a Child Abuse and similar more serious Endangering the Welfare of the Child charge, both felonies. It is hard to imagine a scenario where the failure to report a child would not be significant enough potential harm to or neglect of the child to not fit under one of those statutes. As far as not reporting a child dying, it is hard to imagine a circumstance where it would not result in a murder or lesser homicide charge or we also have charges of Tampering with Evidence or Hindering an Investigation.
Besides the charges being potentially duplicative, I am concerned about overreaching and abuse. Unfortunately, couples going through divorces far too often file charges in the heat of the moment, and I would not be shocked to see a claim that a child with the other spouse was “missing” and not reported. As far as not reporting a death, it is hard to imagine abuse of the charge, but death is a very private issue, especially amongst certain religions, so I am somewhat concerned about interfering during that time, if there were no criminal intent.
Finally, in terms of the main goal of this proposal, filling the gap in the Anthony verdict, I am not sure it would have done that. The Prosecution would have been left with the same quandry it already had. It could not allege that Casey Anthony both failed to report a missing child and failed to report the death. It would have been one or the other, resulting in neither verdict as happened already. The jury acquitted not only of the Murder but also Child Endangerment, because it did not know whether or not Caylee was ever alive during the time she was allegedly missing.
Timothy Farrow, of Dash Farrow, LLP, is an experienced criminal defense attorney and former Prosecutor who handles these offense and crimes, misdemeanors, and traffic offense of all levels. When you need experienced, focused, and responsive legal help, call Dash Farrow, LLP at 856-235-8300 or contact us online. We serve individuals and businesses throughout Burlington and Camden County and all of South Jersey.