Video by Annie Emberland/CNS-TV
When a child disappears, someone should be told immediately to assure there are no more Casey Anthonys, the chief House sponsor of a missing child reporting law told the Maryland House Judiciary Committee Thursday.
The bill by Delegate Susan Aumann, R-Baltimore County, would make it a crime for parents or guardians of minors to fail to report their child missing or dead in a timely manner.
The legislation, known as Caylee’s law, was proposed in several states after the trial of Casey Anthony last summer in Florida. Anthony was acquitted on charges of killing her 2-year-old daughter Caylee. Anthony did not report Caylee missing until a month after her disappearance.
More than a dozen states have proposed legislation similar to Maryland’s bill. New Jersey has passed the law, and two versions of the bill have passed in the Senate in Massachusetts. In Maryland, the bill has bipartisan support in both the House and Senate.
“We want to make sure her young life is reflective of other young lives that could be protected,” Aumann said at the hearing on the bill.
The legislation would make it a felony for any parent or guardian of a child 12
and under to fail to report their child missing within 24 hours of their disappearance.
If the child dies, parents must report it within one hour of becoming aware of the death, unless the child is in the care of a physician.
“It’s not to be disrespectful of the mourning process. It’s just to make sure that things are done in a way that shows that there was no foul play and things were done above board,” Aumann said.
Punishment for violating the law could result in up to 10 years in prison, up to a $10,000 fine, or both.
The law also includes a provision for the parents or guardians of children 13 or older. It would be considered a misdemeanor in certain situations if they failed to report a child missing within 48 hours. Conviction on that charge could result in a penalty of up to five years in prison, a fine of up to $5,000 or both. The law applies if the child has a mental or physical handicap or illness, if the disappearance is suspicious, if the parent or guardian believes the child may have been abducted or if the child has previously been a part of a child abuse report.
Representatives from the Maryland State’s Attorneys’ Association testified in support of the bill but the Office of Public Defender opposed it.
“Even if the child’s death was of natural causes and even if the child was found unharmed, this person, because of a failure to act — not because they did something, but they failed to act — could be convicted of a felony or a fine of $10,000,” Vanita Taylor from the Office of Public Defender said.
Aumann told the Judiciary Committee that between 2009 and 2011 in Baltimore City, 58 children between the ages of 1 and 9 were reported missing more than 24 hours after their disappearance. Aumann said in some cases the child was not reported missing for up to five days after their disappearance.
A Senate version of the bill faces a hearing next week.