TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — State lawmakers are proposing making it a felony not to report a death or to wait more than a day before telling authorities a child has gone missing, making New Jersey one of at least 16 states to introduce a “Caylee’s Law.”
The bill was introduced in the state Senate on Monday, following last week’s acquittal of Casey Anthony, who was charged with murdering her 2-year-old daughter Caylee. The Florida mother didn’t report Caylee missing for more than a month and later said she died accidently.
The case received cable television coverage for weeks, and her acquittal on the murder charges triggered so much frustration by observers that one of Anthony’s defense attorneys said he fears for her safety when she is released from jail on Sunday. An argument over the trial even led to a violent exchange between a man and woman in Florida on Monday.
Sen. Nicholas Sacco, one of the bill’s sponsors in the state Senate, said there was a silver lining to the feeling expressed by many that justice wasn’t served for Caylee Anthony.
“The weakness just wasn’t known,” Sacco told The Associated Press. “It might not have been known if there was a conviction.”
State Democratic Chairman John Wisniewski, who said he’d introduce the measure in the Assembly, said the entire country mourned Caylee’s death, and that had police been notified promptly, her body wouldn’t have sat for months in the woods and authorities would have been better able to determine her cause of death—a point that was never definitively determined during the trial.
Under New Jersey law, someone who fails to report a death by accident or violence, or who disturbs a body, can be charged as a disorderly person. That would become a felony under Caylee’s Law. It would also be a felony for a parent not to report a missing child within 24 hours of disappearance.
Similar bills have popped up in at least 16 states, including Florida, New York and Texas, despite a lack of evidence of a nationwide epidemic of parents failing to report missing children.
“It’s one of those issues that’s both good policy and good politics,” said Ben Dworkin, a political scientist at Rider University in Lawrenceville. “This is now in the headlines. Any smart politician is looking to take advantage and ride that wave.”
Jon Kuhl of the National Council on State Legislatures said the quick response across the country represented legislators being responsive to their constituents’ concerns.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)