Caylee's Bandwagon

T.A. Barnhart

Outrage over the the Casey Anthony verdict has led to dozens of proposals for “Caylee’s Laws” — laws that would require parents to report the death of a child within 24 hours or a missing child within 3 days. These laws are impossible to enforce, will not prevent a single instance of abuse, but could lead to the prosecution of innocent parents who’ve suffered a tragedy. What’s not to like?

The best exposition of why these laws are so bad comes from Radley Balko at HuffPost. He details the impossibility of determining time-of-death (as opposed to CSI and other fanciful make-believes) and other practical issues (if the child dies while asleep, when does the one-hour countdown start?). He even makes the extreme aspects of such laws seem almost inevitable:

If you find it doubtful that a prosecutor could be so vindictive, look at Mississippi and Alabama, where women who have had miscarriages are being charged with murder.

During the 2011 Legislative session, a number of wrong-headed bills of this sort came up. HB 2183 makes a felony of a false report of child abuse. Half-a-dozen Representatives stood to speak against the bill, stating unequivocally that fear of being accused of making a false report would lead to even fewer reports being made. Sara Gelser went so far as to call it a “horrible” bill.

It passed. Co-sponsor Rep Mike Schaufler’s justification for supporting the bill? Maybe very few people false reports are made but, by golly, we gotta do something! Why? He never bothered to explain that.

Thankfully, at the same time Rep Lindsay was grabbing vast amounts of tv time with his proposal for a Caylee’s Law, State Sen Jeff Kruse included this in his end-of-session email to constituents:

I can understand the frustration people seem to have at the potential lack of justice. I would keep in mind none of us were on jury, were in the court room every day, or were part of the jury deliberations. For the most part I think our system gets it right, but no system will ever be perfect.

I would also suggest we be very careful about asking for new laws based on one incident. I often find we do not need new laws, we just need to have better enforcement of the ones we already have. I am in no way condoning Casey Anthony’s actions, but I think under Oregon law and with different charges the result may have been different. We take child abuse very seriously in this state and our laws reflect our position.

Oregon’s children need real protection from abuse, not after-the-fact nonsense like Lindsay’s grandstanding. Poverty, substance abuse, parents who were abused, lack of support network; these are the causes of child abuse. Lindsay will waste hours of precious legislative time in 2012 with this bill if he does indeed submit it. Instead of addressing the real needs of Oregon’s children, he’ll get headlines to help his re-election bid. Another “pro-family” politician actually causing harm to kids who need their community to do something tangible, not symbolic.

Let’s hope Oregon politicians have Sen Kruse’s sensibility and not Lindsay’s shallow, craven appetite for publicity. (This is the guy who actually thought that the Dems were paying me to track him, of all the GOP members of the Leg; I was tracking no one, but if I had, it would not have been a lackluster, do-nothing backbencher who failed at his #1 job in 2011 — get a good redistricting plan for his party.) “Caylee’s Law” is, to use Rep Gelser’s word, a horrible idea. [edit: Rep Gelser did not use that word regarding this bill but HB 2183; I did not interview her for this piece.] If you actually care about child abuse, do something productive and real. There are so many avenues open to help kids in Oregon.

And a few to help politicians who really don’t give a damn.

Do you know of a case of abuse? Do you suspect something? Act now!

If you witness abuse, call 911 immediately.

If you suspect abuse, call DHS or your county health department. (DHS info available online)

Don’t worry about getting it right: if you suspect, act. Error on the side of the child’s safety.

And if you worry that you might harm your child, you are not a bad parent. Get help, now.

T.A. Barnhart has been writing at Blue Oregon for nearly 6 years, and recently wrapped-up the Salem portion of The Action TAB, video reports from the 2011 Legislature; a project made possible by supporters at This project will now expand to other areas; all reports can be followed at Facebook.

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    when i asked for info on the best way to report child abuse, in prep for this piece, several people said DHS, and Rep Nancy Nathonson added the following:

    Two related points - after reporting, Kids FIRST in Lane County is a great and innovative collaboration. Please see​Departments/DA/KidsFirst/P​ages/default.aspx And wish my "Relief Nursery" bill, emphasizing early intervention to prevent or avoid further child abuse and neglect, hadn't been killed in committee. sigh.

    thanks, Rep NN

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    Great post, T.A. Keep 'em coming.

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    He's being mocked on oregoncatalyst for his proposal.

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    I agree ~ good post. We should be focusing on prevention. For those that support some kind of law, have you railed against a "nanny state"? This is a perfect example of the mind set of "there's too much gov't" & "there oughta be a law".

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    T.A., I agree. I did not follow the "Caylee" trial, but this year I served on a Multnomah County jury in an assault case. I was impressed with how seriously every juror took our responsibility and how fine-grained our deliberations were. I'll never know if we got it right in a cosmic sense, but we did our job to the best of our ability.

    I also hear of jury verdicts that I don't like, but then I wasn't on that jury, and I don't want new laws based on hysteria, or political opportunism, about one trial.

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    Good post, TA. I support the jury in Anthony trial, including the verdict. They were the jury, they made a unanimous decision based on the facts that they were given. Our system isn't perfect but it's the best I've seen.

    To the point of your post, however--Caylee's Law is not needed. It is an emotional reaction to a horrible incident, nothing more. Laws passed based on emotion rarely accomplish anything positive.

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    As a civil litigation attorney I know very little about criminal juries and nothing about Florida juries. However, this case reminds me yet again that NOBODY knows how a jury will react in a specific case. I constantly remind my corporate clients that jury trials are a crap shoot. Ideally, the party with the law and facts on their side will prevail, and they usually do, but it is still possible to lose a case because a few jurors don't like the color of somebody's tie or because one juror does not like the fact that an expert witness has a speach defect or because one of the jurors has indigestion and votes with the majority so he/she can go home. Attorneys and litigants make decisions based upon a reasonable prediction of the probability of winning or losing, but sometimes things just don't happen in accord with the percentages. I think this case is an example of that principle.


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