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Whoa, Momma!

Sharon Kennedy Wynne, Tracey Henry and Suzannah DiMarzio

Is Caylee's Law a bad idea?



cayleelaw.jpgAlmost immediately after Casey Anthony was found not guilty of the murder of her daughter, the petitions started for a Caylee's Law to "fix the problem." The problem is, some parents fear, the law is a knee-jerk reaction that as one dad asserts would have made him a criminal last week because his teen's phone died while she was at the mall and she was out of touch for several hours.

"With Caylee’s Law and an eager district attorney, I could be charged.  After all, my daughter was missing for seven hours," writes Chicago dad Mark Buldak on Free Range Kids blog.

As our colleague Emily Nipps notes in this report, Florida lawmakers, prosecutors and legal experts are also wondering if such a law is needed. "Is this something we definitely need? No. We probably won't see a reoccurrence, as this was the first time in my 40 years of seeing such a case," Leon County State Attorney Willie Meggs said. "But it also doesn't do any harm."

In Florida, Rep. Scott Plakon, R-Longwood, co-sponsor of “Caylee’s Law,” said he joined forces with other lawmakers after receiving numerous e-mails from constituents pleading with him to change state law. Plakon said while the bill wouldn’t impact Anthony, it does create stiffer penalties for any similar situation that may arise in the future. “Had a law like this been in place, she would have a felony right now,” Plakon said.

The three-page bill makes it a felony for a parent or other caregiver to not report a child under the age of 12 as missing after a 48-hour period. 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.

It's "political chest-puffing" says Harvey Levin, a former lawyer and founder of the gossip website TMZ, and it could consume police time chasing after runaways or dawdling teens because their parents are worried they'll be arrested if they don't report that their kid has been out of their sight too long.

Maybe we need a law against laws named for dead kids. There are studies that have questioned the usefullness of "Megan's Law" which requires anyone charged with any kind of sex crime (from streaking to having sex with their underage girlfriend) to register on a sex registry. The Economist in a recent report about it said, "Harsh laws often do little to protect the innocent. The police complain that having so many petty sex offenders on registries makes it hard to keep track of the truly dangerous ones. Cash that might be spent on treating sex offenders — which sometimes works — is spent on huge indiscriminate registries. Public registers drive serious offenders underground, which makes them harder to track and more likely to re-offend. And registers give parents a false sense of security: Most sex offenders are never even reported, let alone convicted.”

Michelle Crowder  launched the most successful petition on's history when she put up a petition for a federal Caylee's Law. Crowder's petition calls on elected officials to make it a felony for a parent or guardian to not notify law enforcement of a child going missing in a timely manner. It 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.

According to, Crowder's petition is the most popular campaign in the website's history. In less than 36 hours, more than 250,000 people in all 50 states had joined in.

But in an interview with CNN, Crowder admits she talked to no one in the law enforcement community before putting out the idea. "I have not spoken to any law enforcement officers or lawmakers. I do not know any lawmakers or government officials; I just felt something had to be done."

--Sharon Kennedy Wynne

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[Last modified: Wednesday, July 13, 2011 5:14pm]


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