The Most Important Sentence You Will Read about the Casey Anthony Trial
Even as DNA testing continues to exonerate wrongly convicted people, including people who were nearly executed, it’s this rare case — in which a jury recognized that there was no physical evidence linking Anthony to her daughter’s murder — that has America questioning its justice system.
High-profile trials are anomalies. They’re about as far from the day-to-day goings on in police precincts, courtrooms, and prisons as your typical TV crime drama (the other place Americans get most of their (bad) information about the criminal justice system). Despite what much of the public seems to have taken away from these sorts of trials in recent years, the average person wrongly accused of a crime isn’t a wealthy college lacrosse player with top-notch legal representation. Prosecutors who wrongly charge people aren’t usually stripped of their law license or criminally sanctioned. (In fact, they’re rarely sanctioned at all.) Black men accused of murder aren’t typically represented by “dream teams” of the country’s best defense attorneys. And, believe it or not, if there’s a problem in the criminal justice system when it comes to children, it’s that parents and caretakers are too often overcharged in accidental deaths or as a result of bogus allegations, not that they regularly get away with murder.
Even more regrettable is that every time a Casey Anthony-type trial captures the public’s attention, someone gets the idea that we need a new law in response to the completely unrepresentative case, a law that presumably would have prevented that particularly travesty from happening. The problem, of course, is that the new law — usually poorly written and passed in a fit of hysteria — is too late to apply to the case it was designed for. But it does then apply to everyone else.
Laws named after crime victims and dead people are usually a bad idea. They play more to emotion than reason. But they’re disturbingly predictable, especially when they come after the death of a child. So it’s really no surprise that activist Michelle Crowder is now pushing “Caylee’s Law,” a proposed federal bill that would charge parents with a felony if they fail to report a missing child within 24 hours, or if they fail to report the death of a child within an hour. What’s surprising is just how quickly the Change.org petition for Caylee’s Law has gone viral. As of this writing it has more than 700,000 signatures, and is now the most successful campaign in the site’s history. For reasons of constitutionality and practicality, it seems unlikely that Caylee’s Law will ever be realized at the federal level. But according to the AP, at least sixteen state legislatures are now considering some version of the law. That’s troubling.
As a parent, I can imagine lots of reasons not to report the death of a child within an hour. Including sobbing uncontrollably.