“Caylee’s Law” Center of Debate in Tennessee
The recent acquittal of Casey Anthony for the murder of her two-year old daughter, Caylee, has sparked an increasing amount of controversy and brought possible weaknesses in the law to light. A focal point of the controversy was that Casey Anthony did not report her daughter missing for over a month. Therefore, the question that has arisen is can failing to report a missing child for over a month be considered child abuse, neglect and endangerment and be considered a felony offense. Legislators and citizens of various states believe it is. The efforts to find and return a child safely or investigate a situation where a death occurred are severely obstructed by a failure to report the child as missing. The U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention stated that almost 800,000 children are reported missing each year in the U.S. and that most who were found murdered were killed within the first few hours. Thus, the first few hours after the disappearance of a child are the most vital.
Currently, Tennessee law requires the parent or guardian of a missing child to report the child missing. However, no time frame in which the report must be made and no penalty for failing to report are specified. Many states, including Tennessee, are considering the enactment of a new “Caylee’s Law,” which would make it a felony for parents or guardians to not report missing children quickly. Support for “Caylee’s Law” began in part when an online petition at Change.org gathered more than 700,000 signatures just three days after Casey Anthony’s verdict. Some doubt surrounds the effectiveness of such a law due to the rare circumstances of the Anthony case, but it is generally agreed that its application couldn’t hurt.
Due to the belief that only a small portion of Tennesseans are aware that the state has a law requiring missing children to be reported, it is important that the public be aware of any new legislation. Enforcement of a new law would be difficult if people are unaware of it. Likewise, it has been suggested that the child’s age be taken into account. More emphasis should be placed on a three-year old who has been missing for an hour than a twelve-year old who has been missing for five hours. Legislators in Tennessee have announced their intent to back the new bill, which would make it a Class E felony for a parent or guardian to fail to make a reasonable effort to report a missing child within 24 hours. A Class E felony in Tennessee carries a penalty of one to six years of imprisonment and a $3,000 fine. The new bill will be considered when the legislature reconvenes next January.
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Posted By: Eston Whiteside