A groundswell of public outrage and protest erupted after a Florida jury absolved Casey Anthony of responsibility for the death of her 2-year old daughter Caylee.
In light of the recent results of the post-trial USA Today/Gallup poll that showed nearly two-thirds (64-percent) of Americans believed that Casey Anthony “definitely or probably murdered her daughter,” it is understandable why so many feel angry that no one was held accountable for the death of Caylee Anthony.
The response to the Casey Anthony case by Michelle Crowder of Durant Oklahoma was to initiate a petition for new legislation that would “make it a felony for a parent or guardian to not notify law enforcement of a child going missing in a timely manner.” The petition at the website Change.org that calls upon federal and state executives and legislators to pass such a law in the interest of keeping “another case like Caylee Anthony out of the courts.” the petition had garnered 922,475 from those who agreed with Crowder that such a law was called for.
Is such a law needed? Would a “Caylee’s Law,” had it been in effect, resulted in meaningful jail time for Casey Anthony even given her acquittal on murder and child abuse charges? Is it possible that such a law could have some undesirable consequences not intended or contemplated by those who support such a statute?
Potential Effect of a “Caylee’s Law” in the Casey Anthony Case
It seems doubtful that had such a law existed that Casey Anthony would have been indicted under it. The rationale behind this argument is simple. Orange County prosecutors believed that they had a strong capital murder case and they proceeded to trial accordingly.
The prosecution could have sought indictment on other felony charges. Most notably a charge for abuse of a dead human body under Florida Statutes Sec. 872.06 could have been made supported by the same evidence presented at the trial. In summary the statute makes it unlawful for a person to mutilate, commit sexual abuse on, or otherwise grossly abuse a dead human body.
The theory advanced by Anthony’s defense attorneys that Caylee died by accidentally drowning in the family swimming pool inferred that Casey at the very least was party to a conspiracy to the bizarre manner the child’s remains were disposed of and that would have worked against her.
Disposing of a body by throwing it into a wooded swamp like a bag of refuse where it was then exposed to the ravages of the elements, insects and wild animals would likely have been considered under the law as “otherwise grossly abusing a dead human body.” Had Casey been indicted and found guilty on that charge, a second degree felony, the penalty under Florida law could have been according to Florida Statutes, Sec. 775.082(4)(c), a term of imprisonment of up to 15 years.
Given that prosecutors did not seek an indictment for abuse of a dead human body it seems reasonable to conclude they were not likely to charge Casey Anthony with any other felony crime beyond those they chose to include in her original indictment. Consequently, had a “Caylee’s Law” been on the books it would likely have been a moot point.
Issue of Unintended Consequences of a “Caylee’s Law”
For those who believe American children should be given every possible protection and that those who would abuse or murder children should be punished, at first blush the proposed law makes perfect sense. Yet thinking about such a law objectively one can foresee some potential issues and unintended consequences such a law might give rise to.
In Florida, as well as many other jurisdictions, a child is defined as a person under the age of 18 years. While the term “child” may bring to the minds of many an image of an innocent, angelic appearing child like 2-year old Caylee Anthony. Yet the term includes not only defenseless, vulnerable small children but also teenagers who sometimes for reasons of their own tend to go missing voluntarily.
As a retired peace officer with 20 years of service, I know from experience that many children, especially those ages 12-17, run away from home routinely, some on a habitual basis. Parents who lack the necessary skills to discipline and control their children, a much larger segment of our society than many might be aware of, often reach the point of feeling powerless to control their children.
Some parents of habitual runaways stop reporting them as missing because it becomes a vicious circle. They report a child missing, the police locate and take the child into custody, the police return the child to parental control and very often the child simply runs away again. Under a “Caylee’s Law” some of these parents could and likely would be prosecuted and convicted of a felony crime. While such parents may be inept, even dysfunctional, there seems little real purpose to making felons out of them.
While Michelle Crowder should be applauded for her concern for the safety of our nation’s children and a desire to do something positive, new laws likely wouldn’t prevent situations like the Anthony case. Sadly, it’s just not possible to legislate responsibility to those who choose to act irresponsibly.