Black Swans and “Caylee’s Law”

July 6th, 2011

Following up from my previous blogging about the impassioned social media reaction to the verdict in the Casey Anthony case, it seems that has started a petition with over 50,000 signatures to enact federal legislation to pass a new criminal law, titled “Caylee’s Law,” that “will make it a federal offense for a parent or guardian to not notify law enforcement of a child going missing in a timely manner.”

If legislators actually enacted this law, this seems to be a text book black swan response to a tragic event. These types of crimes are so bizarre, and rare (that is why they capture the public attention), that attempts to pass laws to prevent them will likely fail. While parents harming their children is, unfortunately, all-too-common, this outrageous case, with chloroform, and whatever else made this case so newsworthy, is fairly rare. There’s a reason we don’t hear much about the countless children who go missing.

Would Casey Anthony really have been deterred by a federal statute punishing failure to report a missing child? Of course not.

The hope of this statute would be to “keep another case like Caylee Anthony out of the courts.”

So let me be really cynical here. How would this keep a case like Caylee’s out of the courts. If a parent actually killed her daughter, do you think she would tell the police so as not to violate some random federal statute. The purpose of this law, much like laws requiring that people notify the police about lost guns, is to allow the police to easily arrest someone, without sufficient cause to show they committed the underlying offense–whether it is a gun crime, or murder.

How would this law actually work?

I’m writing to propose that a new law be put into effect making it a felony for a parent, legal guardian, or caretaker to not notify law enforcement of the death of their child, accidental or otherwise, within 1 hour of said death being discovered. This way there will be no more cases like Casey Anthony’s in the courts, and no more innocent children will have to go without justice.

Also, make it a felony for a parent, legal guardian, or caretaker to not notify law enforcement of the disappearance of a child within 24 hours, so proper steps can be taken to find that child before it’s too late.

1 Hour! And if someone tells the police on the 61st minute, they go to jail. 24 hours! What about a sleepover in the woods?

While the person is incarcerated, the police have more power to investigate and question him/her. This law will not keep cases like Caylee Anthony out of the courts. If anything, it will place these cases in federal courts (and out of federal courts, and perhaps even create a nexus with a federal interest, like the Loughner indictment). As Doug Berman noted, Casey Anthony should be glad she was tried in state, rather than federal courts. Were she found guilty of obstruction of justice (lying to the police) in federal court, her sentence would have been much steeper.

Plus, I am going to invoke Ted Frank’s rule, and express skepticism of any law named after the victim of a crime–these laws are “poor public policy enacted by legislators who confuse voting against a law with voting against an innocent person.” Who would vote against Caylee?

Update: Constitutional Law Prof Blog has a post about whether this would be constitutional under Lopez.

Update 2: Welcome readers.

Update 3: Welcome Fox New Business readers from John Stossel’s article.