Monday, July 11, 2011

Terrible Opportunistic Policy Proposals: Casey Anthony Edition

I'd like to introduce you to my newest feature, Terrible Opportunistic Policy Proposals. This will feature policy proposals that are designed as media bait, and have the added feature of being a fundamentally unsound idea.

The first proposal featured stems from the Casey Anthony not guilty verdict. Before I get into the actual proposal from NY Assemblywomen Grace Meng (D-Flushing) and State Senator Andrew Lanza (R-Staten Island), let me say I know nearly nothing about the case except for the fact that Casey did not report her dead 2-year old child missing for nearly a month and that one of my least favorite media personalities, Nancy Grace, was a leading driver in the media's coverage of the case. With that lets get into the proposal.

Assemblywomen Meng sent a letter to the District Attorney's Association of New York State pointing out that NY has no mandatory reporting law for parents, guardians, caretakers or other responsible adults to report their child missing and that she is drafting legislation to make it a felony if a parent/guardian/caretaker/other responsible adult does not inform the proper authorities of a missing child "in a timely manner."

The sheer opportunism of this proposal is would make Chuck Schumer blush. Had Casey been found Guilty, this policy would have never been proposed in the first place. Everybody would have said the justice system worked how it was supposed to and cleaned their hands of the tragic affair. But since she was found Not Guilty, everybody freaks out about how a jury could possibly render such an obviously guilty person Not Guilty. Publicity seeking politicians decide to hop on this national freak-out and make a name for herself as the defender of missing children. And thus Caylee's Law is born.

Under the bill drafted by the terribly opportunistic Senator Lanza it would be a Class E felony for the relevant adult not to report their child missing within 24 hours. A Class E felony carries a penalty of 1-3 years in prison. Some other offenses that are Class E felonies can be found here.

Having your kid go missing is a shocking and horrifying occurrence. A parent might not have the presence of mind under those incredibly stressful times to report their child missing to the proper authorities within that 24 hour period. Or what if the child is an attention seeking runaway, and the parent wants to make it clear their behavior will not get them the attention they want. They might not want to involve law enforcement into what is essentially family dispute. These might be niche cases, but Caylee's Law complicates things significantly for those borderline parenting calls.

Those cases are admittedly niche, so thus far you the reader might be thinking this law is still alright, if just a bit crass. But why is this policy horrible? In sum, its pointless.

Ask yourself who are the people most likely to be prosecuted under this law? The only times I can reasonably think of are when the child stays missing, is found dead, or is found alive but sexually abused. If the kid is found in fine shape no prosecutor will go after the parent for reporting after a week instead of after 24 hours. This law will be used as a backdoor means of convicting parents or guardians suspected of foul play. If the prosecution can't get them on the murder, they'll get them on the failure to report. Its a cop out for a more serious offense. Parents or guardians who didn't really commit a serious crime other then failing to report will be on the line for a punishment that goes way beyond what the "crime" was.

Furthermore this law creates a perverse incentive for parents and guardians to NOT report a child missing after 24 hours since they will be in non-compliance with the law. Parents or guardians who for whatever non-suspect reason feel the need to wait before reporting will be much less likely to report later in the process if they know it will put them on the line for jail time.

Lastly, this law really won't change if parents report their child missing or not. Parents who are going to report their child missing will do so regardless. Parents who weren't going to report, aren't going to report, and the authorities won't ever know a crime was committed unless we find a dead body unless the police start knocking on doors to make sure you know where your children are. That PSA "it's 10 o'clock, do you know where your children are" could wind up being a legal obligation to check in with your children and phone it in to the Police. I'm kidding on that last point of course.

Child advocates have their heart in the right place in trying to protect children, but Meng and Lanza's publicity grabbing proposal does nothing to protect children, in fact it might wind up hurting them. Caylee's Law is a Terrible Opportunistic Policy Proposal.

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