Avoiding “Caylee’s Law”

posted at 5:20 pm on July 18, 2011 by Jazz Shaw

I’ve entirely avoided writing about the brutal, sad epic of the murder of Caylee Anthony, not because the story didn’t qualify as “news” in the commonly understood sense, but because these types of sensationalized murders are really well outside the wheelhouse of politics and government. Unfortunately, after the understandable outrage at her mother’s release with little more than a slap on the wrist, some government entities are reacting in a predictable, but likely foolish fashion. As Steve Chapman explains at Reason, rushing through new laws specifically aimed at – and named after – villains made famous by the media is generally a losing proposition. “Personalizing criminal law usually stems from fruitless outrage at a freakish event,” and comes with some serious inherent risk.

Plenty of legislators are ignoring that risk. Their proposals, all going by the name “Caylee’s Law,” are an understandable response to the acquittal of Casey Anthony of killing her 2-year-old daughter. Swearing when you stub your toe is also understandable, which doesn’t mean it will do your toe the slightest good.

So in some 20 states, bills have been introduced making it a felony not to report a child’s disappearance within a given time—eight hours, 24 hours, or 48 hours. Some would also make it a crime not to report a child’s death within one or two hours. If such a law had been in effect in Florida three years ago, Anthony might have gotten a lengthy sentence despite the murder acquittal.

It seems to have gone unnoticed that she did get a lengthy sentence—one year each on four counts of lying to law enforcement officers, almost all of which (with credit for good behavior) she had already served. Florida can blame itself for leniency on that offense. If she had given her false statements to a federal investigator, Anthony could have incurred five years in prison per lie.

For people given to homicide, the proposed change would have zero deterrent effect. If Anthony was willing to overlook the laws against murder, she would not have been fastidious in complying with a reporting rule.

There are frequent and often embarrassing problems with passing knee-jerk legislation in response to high profile stories. Not the least of these is the fact that our legal system has been around for quite a while now and you will often wind up enacting laws against things which are either, a) already illegal, or b) not supposed to be illegal and will fail a court challenge.

This type of situation ties in closely with the reason I’ve yet to see a single so-called “hate crime law” which I felt was valid. We wind up with scatter-shot laws on the books which are, at a minimum, redundant or, at worst, promote unequal protection and enforcement. And the list of possible disastrous scenarios which could result from some of these severely short time-lapse reporting requirements doesn’t take much imagination to summon up.

Before rushing into a politically popular move such as the ones proposed, legislators need to ask themselves a few important questions. Are you addressing a real problem which doesn’t have an extant solution? Is the remedy enforceable and will it pass muster in a court challenge? Have you forgotten the law of unintended consequences?

These are all important issues to be addressed before you wield the legislative hammer in some sort of “feel good” effort. And it doesn’t sound like Florida – among others – has the answers yet.

UPDATE: I was unable to locate this post originally, but Doug Mataconis (a lawyer I frequently turn to on such things) has a more experienced take on it.

This isn’t a new phenomenon, of course. Every time there’s been a horrible crime involving a child that gets a lot of media attention, someone somewhere decides there outta be a law. It’s an understandable reaction on some level because it grows out of revulsion toward a horrible crime, sympathy toward a child, and, in the Anthony case, the idea that someone got away with something. The first and most well-known of these laws is “Megans Law,” which has led to the adoption of some form of sex offender registration by every state in the country. The unintended consequence of such registries, however, has been that even relatively minor offenses committed by people under 18 end up becoming the modern equivalent of a Scarlet Letter, branding someone as a sex offender for life and essentially forcing them into a life under ground. Now some form of notification that a violent sex offender lives nearby may be a good idea. However, more often than not these laws drafted in the heat of passion and outrage end up being far too harsh and don’t recognize the fact that not every crime deserves to be treated the same way

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In a land where politicians make silly laws on a whim, I can’t find anything I don’t like about a law that makes it a crime not to report your young child missing. What parent would wait 30 days unless you are responsible for the crime?

MJZZZ on July 18, 2011 at 5:26 PM

Yeah, yeah. Libertards hate all laws. However, Caylee laws will be a useful tool.

Blake on July 18, 2011 at 5:28 PM

My daughter died in a day care center. When they called me to tell me, I was devastated. I drove to the hospital in a wreckless fury; when I got there I was met with a Pastor.

Parents should home school children. We should do whatever we can to take advantage of technological advances.

Stay at home with your babies. For as long as you can. No matter what.

Key West Reader on July 18, 2011 at 5:30 PM

Legislators – especially those at the state level – have a constant need (and some external pressure) to be seen to be doing something, anything, about the outrage du jour.

It’s how the most craptastic laws get passed.

flipflop on July 18, 2011 at 5:33 PM

rushing through new laws specifically aimed at – and named after – villains

I think you’ll find that this one, like most, are named for the victims, not the villains.

-Language Martinet.

The Monster on July 18, 2011 at 5:34 PM

Key West Reader on July 18, 2011 at 5:30 PM

So sorry to hear that…that’s unimaginably awful.

flipflop on July 18, 2011 at 5:35 PM

Jazz, you stated Caylee was brutally murdered. Facts not in evidence. There was no evidence Casey Anthony ever possessed chloroform, duct tape or plastic bags. Other family members had access to the car and the ME could not name a cause of death. Yet somehow you draw the conclusion a murder was committed. You buy any Moon property recently?

Zelsdorf Ragshaft on July 18, 2011 at 5:35 PM

A vote for “Caylee’s Law” is a vote for MOB JUSTICE over courtroom justice.

We don’t need mob-administered justice.

landlines on July 18, 2011 at 5:38 PM

I can’t find anything I don’t like about a law that makes it a crime not to report your young child missing.

MJZZZ on July 18, 2011 at 5:26 PM

I’m inclined to agree. One bad case is probably not enough to make a new law, but if legislators have evidence of multiple cases of failure to report, then I see nothing wrong with debating details of proposed laws forbidding such failure. Ditto for failure to report a death.

jwolf on July 18, 2011 at 5:40 PM

villains made famous by the media is generally a losing proposition.

I absolutely support Caylee’s Law… few laws would be made if we never made laws based villains in the media. Think about it…

ninjapirate on July 18, 2011 at 5:42 PM

Jazz, you stated Caylee was brutally murdered. Facts not in evidence. There was no evidence Casey Anthony ever possessed chloroform, duct tape or plastic bags. Other family members had access to the car and the ME could not name a cause of death. Yet somehow you draw the conclusion a murder was committed. You buy any Moon property recently?

Zelsdorf Ragshaft on July 18, 2011 at 5:35 PM

Casey Anthony still won’t sleep with you.

The reason the ME could not determine a cause of death was because all that was left of the body was a skeleton. A skeleton wrapped in duct tape matched to the Anthony home. What was determined to be a post-mortem Caylee hair was found in the car.

Now, I don’t believe Caylee wrapped herself up and jumped into a swamp.

Sekhmet on July 18, 2011 at 5:43 PM

Where the state really screwed up in this case was dropping the child endangerment charges and not offering the jury other murder charges to consider. Anthony would be in prison for the next 20 years if they would have done their jobs and not gotten wrapped up in the hysteria and going for broke.

I really don’t see how these new laws affect anything. Those willing to do harm to their children can still be effectively prosecuted under plenty of other laws. And Casey Anthony would have acted no differently if this law were in place prior to her killing her child. I am reminded of the useless laws that most states have that criminalize the use of a firearm during the commission of a felony.

NotCoach on July 18, 2011 at 5:57 PM

rushing through new laws specifically aimed at – and named after – villains

So if this law is named after a villain, how is Caylee a villain exactly?

The Monster on July 18, 2011 at 6:18 PM

Jazz, you stated Caylee was brutally murdered. Facts not in evidence. There was no evidence Casey Anthony ever possessed chloroform, duct tape or plastic bags. Other family members had access to the car and the ME could not name a cause of death. Yet somehow you draw the conclusion a murder was committed. You buy any Moon property recently?

Zelsdorf Ragshaft on July 18, 2011 at 5:35 PM

Try again.

She was found with duct tape wrapped several times around her head. Her body was also found in a bag.

You-Eh-Vee on July 18, 2011 at 6:39 PM

Also, the villain in this case is Casey. There is nothing remotely sensational about this law.

You-Eh-Vee on July 18, 2011 at 6:42 PM

Politicians no longer kiss babies. Now they legislate against baby killers, as if there are no laws against killing (certified) babies?

exdeadhead on July 18, 2011 at 6:44 PM

Where the state really screwed up in this case was dropping the child endangerment charges and not offering the jury other murder charges to consider. Anthony would be in prison for the next 20 years if they would have done their jobs and not gotten wrapped up in the hysteria and going for broke.

What are you talking about? The jury was instructed to return 5 verdicts.

1. Count One, First Degree Murder
2. Lesser Included of Count One, Second Degree Murder
3. Count Two, Aggravated Child Abuse
4. Count Three, Aggravated Manslaughter of a Child
5. Giving False Information to a Law Enforcement Officer in Reference to a Missing Person

She was found ‘not guilty’ on all except number 5.

You-Eh-Vee on July 18, 2011 at 6:46 PM

You-Eh-Vee on July 18, 2011 at 6:46 PM

I guess that’s what I get for only skimming the details of this story and listening to media sources say that the prosecution was only going for murder in the 1st degree.

NotCoach on July 18, 2011 at 6:54 PM

Also, the villain in this case is Casey.

Jazz doesn’t care. We aren’t paid to edit him.

The Monster on July 18, 2011 at 7:09 PM

Jazz doesn’t care. We aren’t paid to edit him.

The Monster on July 18, 2011 at 7:09 PM

Looks like ‘Jazz’ is a wee bit sensitive when people *gasp* don’t agree with him. Sorry Jazz, but when you have open comments on a blog, expect feedback.

Kind of reminds me of that Charles Johnson guy.

You-Eh-Vee on July 18, 2011 at 7:15 PM

She was found with duct tape wrapped several times around her head. Her body was also found in a bag.

You-Eh-Vee on July 18, 2011 at 6:39 PM

Was the duct tape wrapped around her head when she was alive or dead? Was she placed in a bag when she was alive or dead? The state of her body upon discovery may have suggested a violent death. Or, not.

joejm65 on July 18, 2011 at 7:22 PM

Improper disposal of a body. How that body changed from being a little girl to a body is not known. How that body got to the wood is what the smell in the truck should have shown and if they had that charge that she transported a body after death she would still be in jail. And any new law should be of that of transporting or removing a body after death and improper storage of a body after death. It does show guilt but not murder, you need more for that.

tjexcite on July 18, 2011 at 7:30 PM

In a land where politicians make silly laws on a whim, I can’t find anything I don’t like about a law that makes it a crime not to report your young child missing. What parent would wait 30 days unless you are responsible for the crime?

MJZZZ on July 18, 2011 at 5:26 PM

Yeah, yeah. Libertards hate all laws. However, Caylee laws will be a useful tool.

Blake on July 18, 2011 at 5:28 PM

Apparently neither of you actually took the time to read the Reason article. Steve Chapman actually provides multiple examples of how these laws could be counterproductive.

sobincorporated on July 18, 2011 at 8:57 PM

Notcoach: I am reminded of the useless laws that most states have that criminalize the use of a firearm during the commission of a felony.

Are you joking? You don’t see the difference between a violent felony and a non-violent felony? Obviously you’ve never had a gun pulled at pointed at you.

Who cares what Steve Chapman thinks, she murdered her little baby so she could be free to party.

MJZZZ on July 18, 2011 at 9:34 PM

Was the duct tape wrapped around her head when she was alive or dead? Was she placed in a bag when she was alive or dead? The state of her body upon discovery may have suggested a violent death. Or, not.

joejm65 on July 18, 2011 at 7:22 PM

Yeah, because duct tape over the mouth a corpse makes total sense. Were you on the jury by chance?

You-Eh-Vee on July 18, 2011 at 9:46 PM

Yeah, because duct tape over the mouth a corpse makes total sense. Were you on the jury by chance?

You-Eh-Vee on July 18, 2011 at 9:46 PM

Clearly, the mother left a batch of duct tape out, sticky side up, and the poor child fell into it, rolled around a bit, and that was that. I guess her hands must have got tangled up in it too.

slickwillie2001 on July 18, 2011 at 10:18 PM

Clearly, the mother left a batch of duct tape out, sticky side up, and the poor child fell into it, rolled around a bit, and that was that. I guess her hands must have got tangled up in it too.

slickwillie2001 on July 18, 2011 at 10:18 PM

Shit, I think you’re right. How did the defence miss this?

You-Eh-Vee on July 18, 2011 at 10:20 PM

Good God, Greta is still all over the Anthony trial. Is there a responsible adult at Fox News that can do an intervention?

slickwillie2001 on July 18, 2011 at 10:35 PM

Key West Reader on July 18, 2011 at 5:30 PM

I am so sorry for your heartbreaking loss.

Laura in Maryland on July 18, 2011 at 11:11 PM

Lot of people here willing to string up the woman on the evidence presented would be appalled if that was all the government had to show to lock them up for life behind bars. I am pretty convinced at the arguments on threads at this site that they feel too many people end up on death row who are not guilty. I am sure a good many want to have all three cases be true. The government can string that woman up on circumstantial evidence that shows the government case to be plausible, but against me they should have to actually show real solid evidence that goes beyond reasonable doubt, and to top that off, there should be some way to punish those DAs and police officers who put innocent people behind bars!

astonerii on July 18, 2011 at 11:26 PM

Lot of people here willing to string up the woman on the evidence presented would be appalled if that was all the government had to show to lock them up for life behind bars.

Nope.

If the government presented the same evidence that the state showed on Casey’s trial, I’d be f*cked.

You-Eh-Vee on July 19, 2011 at 12:33 AM

If the government presented the same evidence that the state showed on Casey’s trial, I’d be f*cked.

You-Eh-Vee on July 19, 2011 at 12:33 AM

THIS. If I were facing a trial with that kind of evidence against me, I’d be writing my will.

Uncle Sams Nephew on July 19, 2011 at 3:28 AM

Apparently neither of you actually took the time to read the Reason article. Steve Chapman actually provides multiple examples of how these laws could be counterproductive.

sobincorporated on July 18, 2011 at 8:57 PM

Wrong, boyo.

Reason is notorious for poorly thought out, dishonest, and agenda driven articles on criminal law. They are libertard freeks. Chapman’s article is no better than the usual drivel from UnReason.

Blake on July 19, 2011 at 9:05 AM

I often notice the exasperation in the conservative voice over the common people governing themselves.
One of the many places where the left and right concur.

Observation on July 19, 2011 at 9:07 AM

Observation on July 19, 2011 at 9:07 AM

That’s because deep down, both sides agree that it isn’t working out so well. Witness the election of Obama to the highest office in the land…or the ship of fools in line for the 2012 election. The blindness of the jury in this trial is but the latest straw on the camel’s back, and the camel is already wearing knee braces.

Uncle Sams Nephew on July 19, 2011 at 9:57 AM

For crying out loud the phrase for any jury in UK is “beyond reasonable doubt”…I have been on a UK jury where we agreed that the guy probably did the offence but the evidence was not just conclusive so we found him not guilty. The duty of any jury is to convict or not convict on the evidence presented – not on the character of the accused or anger at the crime.
Isn’t that also the case in the USA?
Just because the accused is an extremely unpleasant person doesn’t make them a murderer.
This is why I am against the death penalty – not because I’m soft on criminals, I wish we could give 99 yr sentences in the UK like you can in the US – but if you are actually on a jury and your decision will send someone to their death then you pay more attention to your doubts

callingallcomets on July 19, 2011 at 10:28 AM

Uncle Sams Nephew on July 19, 2011 at 9:57 AM

So you were present in court for the whole of the trial and heard everything that was said….

callingallcomets on July 19, 2011 at 10:30 AM

So you were present in court for the whole of the trial and heard everything that was said….

callingallcomets on July 19, 2011 at 10:30 AM

Nice strawman. But you’ve sort of made a point – for anyone present here can easily see from everything you’ve said that you missed the point by a mile.

Uncle Sams Nephew on July 19, 2011 at 1:02 PM

Just for the record, there was no duct tape found wrapped around Caylee’s’ skull. There were three pieces of duct found close to where the remains were found. One of the pieces had Caylee’s hair stuck to it. Yes, this type of duct tape was very rare and matched the brand found at the Anthony household. One can speculate that the tape was originally placed over Caylee’s mouth and nose and fell off as the body decomposed. But let’s please call it by the appropriate name “speculation”, not “fact.”

Cecil on July 19, 2011 at 1:27 PM

Just for the record, there was no duct tape found wrapped around Caylee’s’ skull. There were three pieces of duct found close to where the remains were found. One of the pieces had Caylee’s hair stuck to it. Yes, this type of duct tape was very rare and matched the brand found at the Anthony household. One can speculate that the tape was originally placed over Caylee’s mouth and nose and fell off as the body decomposed. But let’s please call it by the appropriate name “speculation”, not “fact.”

Cecil on July 19, 2011 at 1:27 PM

No. No, and no.

There was tape on the skull. Did you follow the trial at all?

Seriously, look it up.

You-Eh-Vee on July 19, 2011 at 2:24 PM

Rule of law means that sometimes, one will get away with murder. Before the 24/7 newscycle, the court would have done its thing and if the jury was not persuaded beyond reasonable doubt, Casey would have walked and case closed.

Now we have the celebrity syndrome where because they will be on TV, prosecutors go for when a solid hit, but less flashy, would have been good enough to convict. Just like the baseball case with whathizzface’s mistrial due to unforced errors by experienced federal prosecutors grandstanding for the cameras.

The way I see it, we have too many laws, many trying to fix something else that was porly conceived. To wit, hate crimes. Murder is a capital offense. To murder someone either involves callous disregard (sociopathic) or fury/hate. Why do we need hate crime on top of it?

So we can bust them for hating someone, if we can’t prove the murder?

This is antiethical to what our FF envisioned. If we believe that it is better for 10 gulity persons going free rather than one innocent being punished, then we just have to accept this. This is the price of freedom, liberty and the presumption of innocence for us all. Otherwise, let’s change the constitution so that, like most European countries, you are presumed guilty and the burden is on you to prove your innocence. Believe me, that is a harder hill to climb as opposed to the govt having to prove your guilt.

AH_C on July 19, 2011 at 2:58 PM

Child abuse and neglect are illegal. I don’t see why anyone would get their panties bunched about the proposal that failure to report a child missing would be made illegal as well.

I understand all the WAH WAH WAH from people who are upset that the majority believe that Casey Anthony is guilty of murder, but are we really going to be so willfully ignorant as to her guilt in everything leading up to Caylee’s death?

This isn’t double jeapordy, it’s not mob justice, it’s seeing a loophole in child protection laws that– if you think the government/justice system should be at all involved in child welfare (which is a much more worthy debate)– it completely reasonable to want to see closed.

RachDubya on July 19, 2011 at 4:16 PM