With Casey Anthony having been found not guilty of the murder of her 2-year-old daughter, Caylee, outraged Americans are seeking other routes to justice and hoping to prevent similar cases.
About half a million people have already signed an online petition calling for a federal law — Caylee’s Law — to make it a felony if parents fail to report the death of a child within an hour, or fail to report a missing child within a day. Legislators in at least five states, including Florida where Anthony was tried, are working on introducing similar bills.
But is this really a good idea? Such legislation, introduced in the wake of shocking crimes, is notorious for having unintended negative consequences, as embodied in the law school cliché, “hard cases make bad law.”
Consider some scenarios that might arise under Caylee’s Law. For instance, imagine that a child has just drowned — the scenario put forth by Anthony’s defense — after hours of attempts at resuscitation. What parent’s mind will be focused on notifying the police of the child’s death within an hour? Wouldn’t that small chore be forgotten, even by the most conscientious of parents, as they come to grips with the harrowing fact that efforts to revive their child have failed? Do we really want to add legal hassles to such parents’ overwhelming grief?
Further, consider the bureaucratic nightmare of reporting child deaths in hospitals when time of death may not be clear, or in chaotic accidents, or during natural disasters.
Presumably, the reporting requirement could be satisfied simply by the act of seeking medical attention, but it’s easy to see how the main result here would be more paperwork, bureaucracy and possibly even jail time for people already facing the worst form of grief.
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