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As Casey Anthony nears freedom, support grows for Caylee's Law — but is it needed?

Around the country, and especially here in Florida, lawmakers are rushing to file their version of the so-called Caylee's Law, which would penalize parents who don't report missing children.

But as the bill gains steam, many in the legal world wonder: Who is this law really helping?

As Orlando's Casey Anthony prepares to walk free after being acquitted of the most serious charges in one of most-watched trials in the world, politicians are responding to the public outrage over the verdicts. In Florida alone, multiple state legislators scrambled to introduce bills.

Republican Reps. Jose Felix Diaz of Miami and Scott Plakon of Longwood won the race. The two were the first to introduce a bill making it a felony for parents or caregivers to not report a missing child within a certain time frame.

Anthony did not report her daughter missing for 31 days, a key piece of evidence used against her. She faced no penalties for not reporting the child's disappearance.

"By the publicity the trial brought here, we have now shown that in the state of Florida, it's almost an incentive that if you harmed your child or lost your child and you didn't report the child missing, you will benefit from that," said Plakon, whose district is just north of Orlando. "We have to show that it is not okay in our state."

Some wonder if people really need that reminder, or if the proposed law is simply appeasing those angry at the trial's outcome. Sixteen other states are also considering similar bills and federal legislation has been filed.

"That kind of reaction is not atypical," said Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney Bernie McCabe. "When something tragic like this happens, oftentimes many people try to find a way to prevent it from happening again."

McCabe couldn't remember it ever happening before the Anthony case. And he wasn't sure whether people would feel better if missing child reporting laws were in place.

"Hypothetically, what the end result would have been in the Anthony case is a conviction of a third-degree felony. … But would that have brought satisfaction to people who thought the verdict was not accurate in the first place?" McCabe said.

Joe Episcopo, a Tampa criminal defense attorney and TV legal analyst, said the intent of the bill seems insincere. It would be child abuse to not report a missing child, he said. And if someone is on trial for killing a child and also happened to not report it, there are bigger issues at hand.

"I think this is your typical people run for office trying to get their name out there and jumping on the bandwagon, adding a new law we don't need," Episcopo said. "It's, 'Hey look at me, we're doing it for the children.' "

Leon County State Attorney Willie Meggs said he didn't want to be too critical of a well-meaning bill, but he wonders about the usefulness of Caylee's Law.

"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," Meggs said. "But it also doesn't do any harm."

Plakon agreed the Anthony case is rare and the likelihood of applying a Caylee's Law to another case in the future is low. But what if it does happen? How else can we prove that we learned something the first time?

"The fact that we have a Casey Anthony," he said, "shows that we need a law.

Emily Nipps can be reached at nipps@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8452.

As Casey Anthony nears freedom, support grows for Caylee's Law — but is it needed? 07/13/11 [Last modified: Thursday, July 14, 2011 9:04am]
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