(TRENTON) – Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D-Middlesex) today announced he will introduce a bill designed to assist law enforcement in the search for abducted children, and increase the chances of determining cause of death in death investigations, in light of the circumstances that played out before the whole country in the trial of Casey Anthony.
The bill would make failing to report a death in New Jersey a felony, and require that a missing child be reported to police within 24 hours. Under current law, failing to report a death is a disorderly person offense, and there is no set timeframe for reported a child missing.
“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. “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, would help them determine the cause of death, get a guilty conviction and bring justice to the victim.”
The bill would amend current law (N.J.S.A. 52:17B-89) by making it a crime for anyone who becomes aware of a death by criminal violence or accident and fails to report that death to the county medical examiner, the State Medical Examiner, or the municipal police department where the death occurred.
Under current law, a person who “willfully neglects or refuses” to report the death, or who touches, removes, or disturbs the body of the dead person, is guilty of a disorderly persons offense, which is punishable by up to six months in prison, a fine of up to $1,000, or both. The law requires the prosecution prove the person was aware of the death, and provide proof that the person willfully neglected or refused to report the death.
Wisniewski wants this disorderly persons offense to be elevated to a felony.
The bill would also establish a 24 hour timeframe for reporting a child missing. Wisniewski noted that it is generally recognized by law enforcement that, at least in the case of abducted children, notification of a missing child should be made as soon as possible, since the immediate hours after abduction are the most crucial in finding a child, but there is currently no set timeframe. 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 sooner the police know a child is missing, the greater the chance the child will be found. We have mourned the loss of too many children who were snatched from their families never to be seen again, or worse, have perished at the hands of their abductors,” said Wisniewski. “This timeframe 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.”