(TRENTON) – The Assembly on Thursday approved legislation sponsored by Assembly members John S. Wisniewski, Ralph R. Caputo, Connie Wagner, Charles Mainor, John F. McKeon, Vincent Prieto, Elease Evans and Angel Fuentes that would aid in the search for missing children by making it a crime to not report a missing child within 24 hours.
The bill is called “Caylee’s Law” in honor of Caylee Anthony, the two-year-old girl from Orlando, Florida, who was missing for 31 days before her grandmother reported her missing. She was found dead months later. Her mother, Casey Anthony, was found not guilty of her murder.
The bill (A-4297) would criminalize the failure to report the disappearance of a child within 24 hours, and upgrade the failure to report a death in New Jersey to a fourth degree crime.
Under current law, failing to report a death is a disorderly person offense, and there is no set time frame for reporting a child missing. A disorderly person’s offense is punishable by up to six months in prison, a fine of up to $1,000, or both. Fourth degree crimes are punishable by imprisonment of up to 18 months, a fine of up to $10,000, or both.
“The entire country has mourned the loss of Caylee Anthony, whose little body laid in the woods for months before police were notified she was missing. Had they been notified sooner, they could have determined the cause of her death and justice may have been served for this little girl,” said Wisniewski (D-Middlesex). “We know the first hours are crucial in finding a missing child. Prompt notification would help police with their search, and in the awful case that tragedy strikes, help them determine the cause of death, get a guilty conviction and bring justice to the victim.”
“Any law enforcement authority will tell you that the first few hours after a child goes missing are the most critical in determining whether that child is found and unharmed,” said Caputo (D-Essex). “Sometimes parents, whether good or ill intentioned, might wait longer than that to contact authorities, increasing the chances of a tragic ending.”
“The sooner police are notified about a child who is missing, the greater the chance the child will be found safe,” said Wagner (D-Bergen). “There have been too many cases of children who have disappeared never to be seen again. Sadly, it is too late for little Caylee, but if her tragic death can help save the lives of other children who have gone missing, at least it will not be in vain.”
“It’s hard to imagine why any parent would wait so long to report their child missing, when the immediate hours after abduction are the most crucial in finding a child,” said Mainor (D-Hudson). “This time frame gives our law enforcement officials the time needed to do their jobs effectively, and children who have been abducted the hope that they will be found safe.”
“Making it a crime to not report a child missing within 24 hours gives that child a better chance at being found, or at the very least, the chance to get justice,” said McKeon (D-Essex). “We’ll never know whether this time frame would have made a difference in Caylee’s death, but it could have helped authorities locate her body sooner and determine what or who killed her.”
“We might never know how little Caylee died, but we do know that, had her disappearance been reported sooner, police would have had a better chance of finding what killed her,” said Prieto (D-Bergen/Hudson). “If conscience is not enough to push someone to report a death or a child missing, then maybe the possibility of harsher punishment will make them do the right thing.”
“It’s hard to conceive how an entire month could go by before a two-year old would be reported missing to police,” said Evans (D- Bergen/Passaic). “Whether her death was intentional or accidental, there is no justification for not reporting it to police. Justice may have eluded Caylee, but at least she can help bring justice to other children who disappeared never to be seen alive again.”
“Sadly, Caylee’s story is just one of many. Thousands of children are reported missing every year. The first few hours are crucial in not only finding a child who is missing, but finding them safe,” said Fuentes (D-Camden/Gloucester). “This measure will not bring Caylee back, but it can help give new meaning to her short life by aiding the search for missing children.”
The bill would make it a fourth degree crime for a responsible parent, guardian or other person with legal custody of a child to fail to report the disappearance of a child to police within 24 hours, after becoming aware of such a disappearance.
Under the statutes governing the State Police Missing Persons Unit, a missing child is defined as “a person 13 years of age or younger whose whereabouts are not currently known.”
The bill would also amend current law (N.J.S.A. 52:17B-89) by making it a fourth degree crime to fail to report a death by criminal violence, accident, suicide or any suspicious manner to the county medical examiner, the State Medical Examiner, or the municipal police department where the death occurred; or willfully touch, remove or disturb a body or the clothing on the body.
The bill was approved 69-0 by the Assembly, and now heads to the Senate for further consideration.