Why We Don’t Need Caylee’s Law

In the wake of the Casey Anthony verdict, a number of state legislators have proposed, either in their elective bodies or in the press, the enactment of a so-called “Caylee’s Law” to create or enhance penalties for not reporting death of one’s child. This is a bad idea for several reasons.

First, it has nothing to do with what happened to Caylee Anthony. It only has to do with what the Casey Anthony defense said happened to Caylee, which no one believes anyway. However, since murdering a child is already a crime and often an enhancement toward a death sentence, even when someone who might have done it gets away with it, the only new law available is one that covers what didn’t happen.

Second, what didn’t happen doesn’t happen very often. That’s what made Casey’s defense so unbelievable. It’s not what people do. Why do we need to create legislation for a non-existent need?

Because it meets a wholly different need. We need to feel good about ourselves. We need to feel that even though the law couldn’t do something to help Caylee, if we pass a law in her name, however remotely connected to actual events, we are creating some sort of justice for her. Is the need to feel good about ourselves, however ephemeral, a reason to enact laws?

Third, legislation by knee-jerk reaction is pretty much always a bad idea. Let me give an example from my other country, home to the Mother of Parliaments and the Mother of All Knee-Jerk Reactions. In August 1987, Michael Ryan, a mentally unstable man with a fascination for firearms, perpetrated what became known as the Hungerford Massacre. He killed 15 people  using a Beretta 9mm pistol, a Chinese version of the AK-47, and an M1 carbine. This is the first time that anyone in Britain had committed this sort of gun crime.

In response, Parliament outlawed all semi-automatic and pump action rifles and shotguns, any shotguns other than single shot or double barrel, and any shotgun with less than a 24 inch barrel. Remember, a shotgun was not even used in the crime. Also outlawed were any revolvers other than muzzle-loaders. Remember, a revolver wasn’t even used in the crime. At this point, it probably won’t surprise you that they also outlawed rocket launchers and mortars. To top if off, the Home Secretary (the cabinet minister in charge of law enforcement) was given the power to prohibit any firearm or ammunition not on the list, should he find it wise (or ideologically congruent) to do so.

All this legislation didn’t stop Thomas Hamilton from killing sixteen 5- and 6-year-olds in Dunblane, Scotland in 1996. The obvious answer was more legislation. The Conservative government wouldn’t do it, but lost in a landslide the next year. The first legislation by the Labour government was to outlaw all of the weapons left out of the previous ban and impose a mandatory five-year sentence for owning a gun.  As a result, gun crime in the UK has steadily climbed, from one-off incidences to regular occurrences.

So why do I give a worst case scenario for knee-jerk legislation? Surely the Caylee Anthony case and response is nothing like that. The problem is that we become accustomed to accepting knee-jerk reactions. We become accustomed to finding our national salvation in legislation, whether it is moral or economic, like destroying an economy with massive government debt in the pursuit of fixing a problem that was caused by massive debt in the first place.

Governments always over-react and when they over-react quickly, they tend to over-react disastrously. Even in the case of Caylee’s Law, look at the domino effect already in motion. The non-reporting of a child death is suggested in one case in Florida. I currently know of proposals for a Caylee’s Law in Alabama, Oklahoma, Maryland, Indiana, North Carolina, Kentucky, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Texas, and of course Florida. One organization is pushing for a federal law.

This is all with a matter of days after the Casey Anthony acquittal. Had Casey been found guilty, these proposals would never have been considered. Justice would have been seen to have been done and everyone would have felt good about themselves. What does this say about the need for Caylee’s Law?

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Three Years is Not Six Days

It seems moral outrage does strange things to math skills. What is it with all the outrage over Casey Anthony being released next week? Headlines suggest that she is serving less than a week for lying to police. Twitterers and bloggers are beside themselves.

No one seems to realize that she’s actually being punished rather harshly. First, she’s gotten the maximum sentence. Second, she’s been sentenced to serve the penalty for each of the four count consecutively. Third, Florida is very stingy with time off for good behavior.

So many people seem to want the three years she’s been in prison to be substitute punishment for the murder she probably committed. It just doesn’t work that way. If she’s declared not guilty, she can’t be punished in a backhanded way. If her liberty has been deprived and she is found guilty of anything, she has to be credited for the time. That’s the way the law works for everyone else, and everyone is equal under the law.

I know it is hard for the public to stop rubbernecking at the train wreck that is the dysfunctional Anthony family and the tragedy of Caylee Anthony’s death. Surely there is another personal tragedy somewhere for people to latch onto and invest emotion. Let the law to its job.

Three years is three years.

Move along…

What the Casey Anthony Trial Says About Us

Casey Anthony is not guilty. I didn’t say she was innocent. The former is a legal declaration, while the latter is a moral state. But what does the trial and the public reaction to the verdict say about us?

It tells us that the media likes pretty people and good story. And that we are easily led. Caylee Anthony had what in the UK could be considered the Madeleine McCann factor. Madeleine was the three-year-old British girl who abducted while her family was on holiday in Portugal in May 2007. She has never been found, but she has never been out of the headlines. She’s a pretty little girl with attractive parents who are doctors. Madeleine was certainly not the only British child to go missing  in 2007, but it would be hard to realize that from the media coverage.

How many other small children have been murdered in the United States since Caylee Anthony in 2008? How many have been neglected and abused? Sadly, most of them aren’t as photogenic as Caylee with mothers who act as bizarrely as Casey, or maybe they would have been noticed by the world at large. Maybe we would have been just as outraged when the parents were let go, often without the scrutiny of a trial or other judicial process.

I could give you examples from my own client list when I had a small inner-city neighborhood general civil and criminal practice that would make you upset and angry.  That is, if you were so incline to have a fraction of voyeurism that America at large has had for the Casey Anthony trial. However, I don’t have pictures and video and live court proceedings with celebrity commentators. None of the perpetrators or victims were particularly photogenic. It is unlikely that there will be any demand for me recount my stories and change the names to protect the guilty.

Yes, Caylee Anthony’s death was a terrible thing and Casey Anthony’s trial may very well have ended up in a miscarriage of justice. Many people have felt the need to vent their righteous anger. Most don’t realize it is anger they never would have had, but for the opportunity cable news channels found to grab advertising revenues.

But what are we doing about the terrible things that are happening much closer to home? What would happen if we invested the emotional effort expended on a family tragedy in Florida in praying for the needs around us? Into whose lives can we invest our time, so that they do not become a statistic unworthy of notice by FoxNews, CNN, and Court TV?

The Information Age, with instant access to the whole world, can be a good thing. It can also mess with our priorities. You can’t change a thing about Caylee and Casey Anthony. You can change the lives around you.