Caylee's Law - Do we need one?

In the wake of the acquittal of Casey Anthony on the charge that she had murdered her daughter Caylee, there has been much public outrage and a call for new laws that might have been applicable in this case, in the hopes of "preventing" something like this from happening in the future. Online petitions and Facebook groups supporting a "Caylee's Law" are abuzz with activity, but the proposals are vague and seem more to be aimed at assuaging the public's anger over the trial's outcome rather than enacting a practical code of justice.

Let us begin by looking at the fact that Casey did not get off entirely. There are already laws on the books that were and may have been applied. She served three years in jail for the four misdemeanors she was convicted of, for lying to police. A rather lengthy sentence in fact for non-felonious offenses. Child abandonment, obstruction, and perhaps even criminal facilitation might also have been charges which convictions against her might have been secured. Under Federal law she may have been charged with misprision.

§ 4. Misprision of felony

Whoever, having knowledge of the actual commission of a felony cognizable by a court of the United States, conceals and does not as soon as possible make known the same to some judge or other person in civil or military authority under the United States, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years, or both.

Now another three years may not be enough to satisfy the bloodlust of an outraged public, but frankly, no law really will change that. The public feel "cheated" out of a murder conviction, despite the fact that the prosecution failed to make their case. Much reasonable doubt exists that Casey was actually the person who took her daughter's life. It seems pretty clear that she knew her daughter had been killed, took steps to cover up the crime even, but there is no proof at all that she was the actual killer. For all we know it could have been a boyfriend or acquaintance, a babysitter, another family member even, we really don't know. It is easy to assume things, but convictions are not won on assumptions and guesswork, nor should they be, lest we all find ourselves behind bars on mere accusations of wrongdoing.

Now let's go ahead and look at what exactly is being proposed. The petition letter from Change.org reads as follows:

Create Caylee's Law, Not Reporting Child's Disappearance 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 disappearance of a child within 24 hours, so proper steps can be taken to find that child before it's too late.

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.

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.

[Your name]

As is so often the case with these boutique laws, they seem to make sense at first glance. It seems pretty reasonable to expect a parent to report that their child has gone missing. But why, exactly, should not doing so be a felony? Why should I be of the opinion that Casey Anthony is getting out of prison  "ENTIRELY too soon?" It seems to me that the phrase was authored on the basis of emotional appeal rather than sound logic. It was written in anger, not written as a practical observation.

Keep in mind here too that low-level felonies only carry sentences of a few years themselves. Even if such a law were enacted, Casey Anthony may still be getting out of prison after serving only a few years, sentenced to time-served while awaiting trial. Especially considering the fact that misdemeanor offenses rarely are met with a sentence of incarceration at all much less 3 years in prison.

So what level of felony is actually being proposed here? Is the author suggesting that failure to report a child missing be tantamount to murder? That a parent found guilty under this proposed law face a sentence on the order of 25-to-life perhaps? The knee-jerk response that I can hear already by some readers of this article is "absolutely! Casey Anthony should do life in prison for not reporting her child missing!"

But this proposed law is not about Casey Anthony. She will never be charged under such a law. That opportunity is passed. So we are left with contemplating how such a law will be applied in the future. Now let us imagine for a moment that you are a single-mother, working two jobs, and your teenage child often goes to stay at friends houses. You come home from work to find the apartment empty, as is often the case, and after a meal and some sleep you head back out to work early the next morning. That night you come home to be greeted by police with the most terrible news a parent could ever imagine. That your child has been found dead. Oh, and by the way, the time of death has been placed at 30 hours ago, and you are now under arrest facing life in prison for failing to report that your child was missing.

We could also suppose that perhaps the child bounces back and forth between the homes of a divorced mother and father regularly. Maybe both parents live in the same area and the child goes back and forth using their bicycle or public transportation, or just takes whichever school bus they feel like taking at the end of a school day. For a short period of time, 24 even 48 hours perhaps, both working parents assume the child is with the other parent, only to find that their child has been found dead somewhere. In a case like that, who gets charged? Both parents?

And what about cases where the parent claims to have left the child with a babysitter, as Casey Anthony claimed in this case? What if it cannot be proven who was actually in charge of the child at the time of the disappearance and thereby subject to the new proposed law requiring that a missing child be reported? Are both the parent and the babysitter charged then in such a case?

Now these are just a few examples that immediately come to mind. In time, we would see many more unforeseen examples arise of how such a law would actually be a miscarriage of justice. After all, the law is the law, and does not differentiate between people who break the law with good reason or not. It will be applied to all parents, not just in cases like this one.

Then of course too, we should also consider cases of missing persons and unreported deaths other than children. In a sense, this proposed law does not even go far enough. Why should only children be protected by such a law, with a parent/guardian be held accountable for this perceived negligent indifference? Shouldn't a husband who fails to report his wife missing and/or dead also be held accountable? Or even a roommate perhaps? And then of course where does one actually draw the line? Could not then an employer be held accountable for failing to tell police when an employee doesn't call or show up to work for days?

So this proposed law actually falls short of the reaching the moral high-ground the petitioners think they are taking, while displaying a lack of logic and blatant emotional appeal.

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.

No law ever prevented a crime, and this proposed law will not stop children from being killed. Even if this law were on the books now, and Casey Anthony could be charged under such a statute, it still would not be justice for Caylee for one big, glaring, obvious reason. Her killer is still at large. To say otherwise is to assume that Casey is indeed the killer and this law is simply an end-run around justice in order to imprison her anyway even though she was exonerated of the murder charge. Laws are not there as a box of tricks in order to lock up anyone we feel like. It is not the job of the People's prosecutor to sit there and say, "Well, if we don't get the person for this crime, we have a few more crimes we can get them on instead and make sure they wind up in prison no matter what."

If we are going to go down that road, why not just throw out the Constitution entirely and throw everyone in prison who doesn't look right, or who we think "deserve" to be in prison.

Which of course now brings us to the Constitutionality of such a proposed law. The Fifth Amendment protects us from self-incrimination, and not for the reasons you may think. This right is not to protect the guilty, it is there to protect the innocent. Specifically, to protect us from threats and coercion to gain a confession to, or evidence of a crime. You throw away the protections against self-incrimination, you open the door to false confessions and torture.

SELF-INCRIMINATION: Acts or declarations either as testimony at trial or prior to trial by which one implicates himself in a crime. The Fifth Amendment, U.S. Const. as well as provisions in many state constitutions and laws, prohibit the government from requiring a person to be a witness against himself involuntarily or to furnish evidence against himself.

SELF-INCRIMINATION, PRIVILEGE AGAINST the constitutional right of a person to refuse to answer questions or otherwise give testimony against himself or herself which will subject him or her to an incrimination. This right under the Fifth Amendment (often called simply PLEADING THE FIFTH) is now applicable to the states through the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, 378 U.S. 1,8, and is applicable in any situation, civil or criminal where the state attempts to compel incriminating testimony.

~Black's Law Dictionary

If Casey Anthony were guilty of any crime whatsoever involving the death of her daughter, requiring her to report her daughter missing to police would be a violation of her Fifth Amendment rights which protect her against self-incrimination. That doesn't mean a self-incrimination of murder either. It could have been something as simple as a misdemeanor charge of unlawfully dealing with human remains, or being high on marijuana at the time of the Caylee's disappearance or death even if she was not present.

Therefore, the only time this proposed law could be applied in accordance with the tenets of the Constitution of the United States, is if you first proved that the parent/guardian was in fact innocent of all other crimes related in any way to the disappearance of the child. And of course then, a person who had done nothing else wrong whatsoever, is the last person you would actually want to send to prison for not reporting their child missing.

So now we see, that what appeared to be reasonable proposal, a good idea, actually is not. So many people have said, "I can't believe this isn't already a law." Well, folks, now we know why it isn't. Because emotional appeal, knee-jerk reactions, and flawed logic should never be the basis of law. The passage of such a law would actually be contrary to liberty as prescribed by our Constitution, and another stride deeper into the fascist trend of this nation's recent history.

"I use emotion for the many and reserve reason for the few."  -Adolf Hitler

EDITOR'S NOTE: A poll for this topic has been attached to the bottom of this site. Feel free to leave comments as well, of course. 

Join the "Say No to Caylee's Law"  page on Facebook


Nicole said...

I've read your article and politely disagree. In the case of the teenager, wouldn't a working single mother have some way or plan in place to communicate with her child? Call me by such and such a tome everyday to check in? If she hadn't heard from her child in 30 hours and not been worried enough to attempt contact, then yes, she deserves to be charged. In the case of the divorced parents, it goes one step further. Wouldn't you, as a responsible parent, check in to make sure your child is where you assume he/ she is? It seems as if your exceptions are merely passes for lazy parents. In the case of a babysitter, I would still call to check in at least once a night just to hear my child's voice if I work as much as you say. Casey did not believe her daughter was with a babysitter because she made the babysitter up. And if she was threatened by her father to keep her mouth shut and she listened, she still deserves some sort of reprimand because she didn't report him. Her child was dead and she knew about it but was scared to say anything is what you're saying. If my daughter was dead, nothing on this planet would stop me from making sure her murderer was caught and punished. My daughter is my whole world. I wouldn't be able to 'grieve' by getting the good life tattooed on my body, as Ms. Anthony did. I won't even begin to dissecting your use of the fifth amendment because you talked in so many circles that I can't break it down to dispute it.

Station Six Underground said...

Nicole, thanks for your civil reply. Allow me a rebuttal here.

To begin with, you are too caught up in the details of the examples I made, and failing to see the bigger picture. There are indeed times when any parent may lose contact wits their child for 24 hours. It should NOT be a felony. Life is not a textbook, and is often un-predictable.

The single mother again, for example. It is a sad fact of life in America today that broken families and a devastated economy have left kids to raise themselves on Hot Pockets and MTV. Should the mother have a plan of communication in place? Sure, but it still does not mean she should spend years in prison for fail8ing that task, or for some miscommunication. But if you want more details in that scenario, let's pretend that the child left a note before school at 7AM in the morning that they would be staying the weekend at a friend's house. The mother does not return home until 2AM the following morning to find the note, far too late to call the friends house. Especially since she has no reason to be worried as she knows the friends parents well and the child often stays there. So then the mother gets some sleep and is off to work again, not returning home until 5PM the next evening to get ready to head out to her second job. Now if the child was killed at say 8AM, on their way to school, the time elapsed would be 33 hours.

The divorced parents scenario. You are assuming that they have an amicable relationship. Let us instead assume that there is a court order in place barring them from contacting eachother without a lawyer present.

In the case of the babysitter, you misunderstand the example. If the child goes missing while in the care of the babysitter, but then claims to never have has the child in the first place, then who gets charged?

Now you may be able to talk tough from the comfort of your normal home, about how nothing and no threat would stop you from reporting your child missing, but you obviously have no idea what it is like to be stuck in a very bad situation. Perhaps even brainwashed by a father who had molested you all your life. A reprimand? Perhaps. She spent 3 years in jail. Seems reprimand enough for me, with the laws already on the books.

Now lastly, and this then gets into the Fifth Amendment, if Casey had reported her child missing, she would have been committing a crime and filing a false police report. Caylee was not missing, she was dead. So then she should have called and reported her dead you say? No, shouldn't have to. Requiring her to do so would be a violation of the Fifth Amendment. You cannot be compelled to be a witness against yourself, or to provide evidence against yourself.

And I think that's what this case is REALLY about. Why the media has been shining the spotlight on it for so long. Why the stunning acquittal and incompetence of the prosecution. The powers that be have just made an enormous propaganda coup and compelled the public to demand with outrage, that the Fifth Amendment be destroyed. This is not just about one dead little girl, this is about the creep of fascism and the destiny of our nation.

I for one, am not prepared to submit to the destruction of yet another amendment based on emotional appeal and rhetoric.

Anonymous said...

So because of the fifth amendment if you kill someone by running them over with your car you don't have to report it because that would be self-incrimination? I don't believe that's the case.

Casey Anthony should have been charged with obstruction of justice and tampering with evidence. Also, if she was under oath at any time that she made false statements, she should be charged with perjury.

Now as to "Caylee's Law", there should be some type of law which requires that children who are missing be reported within a reasonable amount of time. All the scenarios you described are a little unrealistic in my opinion. Not keeping tabs on your children under any circumstance is neglectful and lazy. But I don't think that these hypothetical situations are what supporters of Caylee's Law are targeting. Parents who know their child is missing are the ones who should be held accountable. Not reporting that your child is missing is neglect. Period. What parent who has nothing to fear is going to fail to report a missing child? I think that is the ultimate issue here. If a law of this sort was passed parents who have nothing to hide would have nothing to fear.

Let me give you a scenario. A young mother kills her son and carefully disposes of his body. She does not report him missing and his body is NEVER discovered yet the extended family of the child eventually realize he is "missing". Now because the body is never found the mother in all probability cannot be charged with murder. However, a law such as Caylee's Law would provide some type of recourse.

A parent who does not report a missing child is a parent who has something to hide. That is the bottom line.

Station Six Underground said...

Anon 1:28, please allow me to retort in part.

As to your first paragraph, you are confusing traffic law with criminal law. Traffic law is contract law, not common law. When you get a driver license, you make a contract with the state to abide by a certain set of rules which may "supersede" the Constitution. I do not agree with it, but that is that fact of the matter. Under traffic law, you are in fact required to report that you have hit someone. But ONLY because you contracted to that obligation.

However, let us pretend for a moment that you were in a gas station when it got robbed, and the clerk was killed by an armed robber. You are under no obligation to report that crime, particularly if you would be implicating yourself for shoplifting let's say.

See some of the inline links in this article for better understanding of self-incrim and the 5th Amendment.

Thanks for commenting tho. I do enjoy legit discussion on the subject-matter and you have raised valid points. I will comment further in a few.

Station Six Underground said...

Rebuttal to para 2 of 1:28

I can't say I disagree with you at all on those points. She SHOULD have been charged with crimes that are ALREADY on the books. A new law is not going to change the fact that the police and prosecution were incompetent. An I certainly odn't want to hand more power to screw ups of that magnitude.

On the other hand tho, maybe they didnt charge her with any of that, because they had no case in making those charges stick.

I realize that the media has convinced us that this woman is guilty of murder and assorted crimes, but the fact remains that she was indeed exonerated, and frankly, she may indeed be innocent. Even if a "bad" mother. The true neglect, murder, whatever, may be the fault of some other party.

Hypothetically for a moment, let us pretend that Casey was indeed a party animal who did not attend to her child, and pawned off her responsibility to her parents, who then hatched a plan to kill the child for the simple reason that they wanted to live out their golden years without being parents all over again. As narcissistic as the daughter they themselves raised.

Should Casey go to prison for their neglect, for their murder? Even if she is a self-centered brat, that does not make her a murderer.

More in a few.

Station Six Underground said...

@1:27 para 3

to begin with, your...

Nothing to hide

Nothing to fear

...reeeks of the same sort of fascism that has children being molested in airports, and all public conveyance soon enough. But let's cut to the chase.

You talk of my scenarios as "unrealistic." Well maybe you should get out in the world a little bit. Let me give a little personal scenario.

A very good friend of mine, who is now an esteemed military commander who commands life and death over thousands of people, was once a kid who regularly sent his single-mother into panic quite regularly. He would disappear sometimes for nearly a week during summer months. Often times he would land at my house, other times, me and my Mom would have no clue where he was.

His Mom did NOT deserve to go to prison for that. She worked her ass off feeding five kids, and panicked all the time because that kid just went where he wanted to go. Even at that age, as a teen, I used to tell my buddy "dude, you gotta tell your Mom where you are." But it was not in his personality. Hell, he used to piss me off that I didn't know where he was. He used to piss off his own friends, but that was just who he was.

And that sense of adventure he carried, carried him into being a decorated commander of military weaponry.

Station Six Underground said...

@1:28, last two.

If a mother kills her child, and/or disposes of the body, forcing her to report that crime is a violation of the 5th amendment. In fact, reporting the child "missing" would be a crime in and of itself, since this child was not actually missing, but in fact dead.

And I have to admit, Caylee's Law might give law enforcement something to go on. But at what cost?

You know rectal cameras and cameras in your bedroom would also help police define who the deviants are.

Anonymous said...

I completely agree with this blog, and have been looking for someone who agrees with me on this issue. Passing Caylee's Law would be irresponsible. Of course it's no surprise to me that so many people are blindly backing it. It's like these people don't live in America, they live in Pleasantville. Everything isn't roses folks. Station Six brings up several valid arguments, they are not unrealistic at all.
Nicole, you are one person. I have seen your argument several times. "If my child..." Well it's not your child. You need to remove yourself from the issue and look at it from other angles. Casey is one girl, this is one court case. We need to stop creating laws that affect the majority because of one tiny minority.

How many people run red lights? The same exact number of people who will run them with red light cameras on every intersection. Ho wmnay millions of dollars have we spent to install them? This isn't an APA paper or I would research it myself. The point is, this is another knee-jerk reaction law that will probably be put in place and cause more harm than good.
- Ed

Anonymous said...

We know our system is an imperfect system and people do sometimes get away with murder. This law would at least prevent someone from profiting off of the killing of their child. Keep that mind.

Station Six Underground said...

Making the system more imperfect is hardly a solution. I didn't bother to touch on the "other" proposed Caylee's Law, because frankly, I don't think it has a chance in hell of making it.

Casey was not convicted of killing her child. There is already a law in place which would prevent her from profiting if she were convicted.

Are you telling me that anyone who is ever arrested for any crime must now be prevented from ever speaking about it, or for being paid to speak about it? Even if they are completely innocent?

And what about Casey's family? They were never even charged with anything at all. How do you propose to stop them from profiting?

Maybe we should just bar the entire media from profiting. Better yet, lets bar profits altogether and become a bunch of filthy Commmies.

Anonymous said...

If you are completely innocent, then nothing would stop you from speaking and getting paid to do so. And as it stands now, nothing prevents Casey from profiting even though she killed her daughter. And don't say she was found not guilty, I know that but she is not innocent.

Station Six Underground said...

Yes, something would stop you if you were completely innocent. The proposed clause in Caylee's Law.

And like it or not, Casey is not guilty in the eyes of the law. It makes no difference what your opinion is on whether or not she actually did it. Take is a step further even and think of how many innocent people have actually been wrongfully convicted. I for one would not want to be wrongfully convicted in hunches and guesswork.

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