Caylee's Law: Michelle Crowder's Petition is a Bad Idea
Caylee's Law: Ill-Conceived Idea is Change.org's Biggest Hit
In a heartfelt but ill-advised reaction to the Casey Anthony verdict, Michelle Dawn Crowder introduced "Caylee's Law", and it has over a million signatures on change.org. Under Caylee's law, a parent would be charged with a felony for failing to report the death of a child within one hour, or the disappearance of a child within 24 hours.
However, Michelle Dawn Crowder did not consult with any law enforcement professionals before hitting the keyboard. Caylee's law may come from the heart, but, if we're honest, it doesn't come from the head.
Caylee's Law is Bad by Design
Due to the firestorm of public opinion, however, the momentum is already building. Even though several states are considering Caylee's Law or some version thereof, it's worth taking a deep breath and considering the risks inherent to emotion-based legislation. The desire for revenge is understandable, but the ethos of "we should convict Casey Anthony of something, anything" is questionable at best.
- How, precisely, would a to-the-minute time of death be determined? When charging a grieving parent with Caylee's Law, if they report their child's death 62 minutes after it happens, you better be able to prove that in court. Remember, CSI is fictional.
- What if the child dies in her sleep? When does the clock start ticking: when the child falls asleep, or when the child dies? (See above)
- When, precisely, is a child "missing", as opposed to late from school, or at a friend's house, or playing hooky? In other words, when does the 24-hour clock start ticking? At "Hm, where's little Johnny?", or at "Johnny should have been home half an hour ago."?
- Since failure to report would be a felony, what police resources would be dedicated to the inevitable deluge of false-alarm missing-persons reports?
- Does a mother or father who finds their child dead immediately consult a clock? Instinct says "probably not".
- Would a parent legitimately concerned for a child's well-being fudge the reportage time in order to compound his or her problem? Instinct says "probably".
- How, exactly, do you prosecute a crime of inaction?
No doubt a law enforcement professional would have more questions, but you don't have to be a cop to see the inherent problems with Caylee's Law. The Economist looked at "name laws" that were basically codified acts of vengeance, and the results were less than encouraging.
Casey Anthony was acquitted not because any pertinent laws were missing from the books, but because the prosecution failed to produce the evidence necessary convince the jury of Anthony's guilt in a capital case (i.e. the death penalty was on the line). Revenge legislation will not change that.
Regardless of your feelings on the Casey Anthony case (and most people wanted to see her convicted of murder), one cannot effectively legislate from the heart; only from the head.