“Good intentions can lead to bad laws”
When Casey Anthony was acquitted of murder charges in 2011, many people around the world were outraged. Among the many troubling aspects of the case was the fact that Anthony failed to report her two year old daughter missing for 31 days. Many people believed that Anthony’s failure to report her child missing to law enforcement was evidence that Miss Anthony must have been responsible in some way for the toddler’s death. The resulting outcry about the failure to report has led legislators around the country to propose timely reporting laws.
Why are these Bills Controversial?
The introduction of a timely reporting bill has gained a lot of support from the general public, but lawmakers have been hesitant to get involved. The major issue from a lawmaker’s perspective is that it would be difficult to define when reporting should become mandatory. Additionally, creating a blank requirement that parents “timely report” their children missing is vague. This raises a huge list of legal concerns, including that the legislation could be deemed unconstitutional. There are additional concerns that people will not be treated the same, even in virtually identical circumstances.
There are other controversial aspects to the laws being proposed in the various states. For example, some of the proposed bills would require parents to report the disappearance or death of their child within 24 hours, but the bills do not differentiate between causes of death. Accordingly, a grief-stricken parent could technically be charged with a felony if they fail to immediately report to the police a death that occurs in a hospital due to an illness.
Why are 10 States Still Debating the Law?
Of the 17 states that have seen proposed versions of these reporting bills, only seven of them have moved forward. The other 10 states, including New York, are tied up in the legal debate over what timely means and to what age group the law should apply.