Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Cautionary Instruction: The post-Casey Anthony verdict fallout

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette/Ipso Facto
July 15, 2011

Today is day number 10 in the post-Casey Anthony era of crime and punishment. But wait . . . before you reach for your computer’s mouse, this is not another blog about the inadequacies of Florida’s criminal justice system.

Whatever your opinion of the verdict, some have suggested the jury’s decision is sound and exemplifies all that’s good and proper about a system that requires a person accused of a crime be found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Some, like Michelle Crowder, an Oklahoma mother, think the verdict, and the system for that matter, stinks.

Crowder created a petition on calling for legislation to make it a felony for parents or caretakers not to report a child's death within one hour or failing to report a child's disappearance within 24 hours. The petition has over one million signatures. There is movement in a number of states, including Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia, to enact “Caylee’s Law.”

Pennsylvania State Senator Larry Farnese said he will introduce such a bill to toughen penalties against those who conceal a child's death. The law would also create a new offense of "neglecting to report a missing child." The Anthony case "riveted the nation and prompted me to take steps to protect Pennsylvania children from similar injustices," Farnese said.

Caylee's Law is a knee-jerk reaction to an unfortunate case. In Pennsylvania, failing to report a child's death is already against the law, albeit without a time limit, and is graded as a first-degree misdemeanor, punishable by up to five years in prison. [] The proposed law would make it a felony.

How many parents are not reporting the death of their children? How does increasing the penalty for failing to report the death of a child protect children?

The failure to report a child’s death is an extremely rare event. The anguish that parents feel upon the death of a child makes reporting the event to the police an afterthought, but also under the proposed law a felony.

The component of the proposed law that requires prompt reporting of a missing child seems misguided as well. A parent who has harmed or killed their child is unlikely to report the child missing even with the threat of a “felony” hanging over their head. A parent facing the mysterious disappearance of a child needs no incentive to contact police.

What is the law’s intent? It appears the sole purpose is to more effectively prosecute parents who get away with killing their children -- not preventing familial murder. Dr. Mary Carrasco, director of A Child's Place at Mercy told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, "To write a law based on that (prompt reporting) is almost offensive. It's silly. It's not how kids are dying every day."

(Photo: Casey Anthony before her sentencing hearing on July 7, 2011. Anthony was acquitted of killing her daughter, Caylee, but was convicted of four counts of lying to detectives trying to find her daughter. Judge Belvin Perry sentenced Anthony to four years for lying to investigators but says she can go free in late July or early August because she has already served nearly three years in jail and has had good behavior. Joe Burbank/Associated Press)

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