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Florida legislature reacts to anthony trial

September 22, 2011

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As usual, the Florida legislature always reacts to high-profile criminal law cases. After a jury acquitted Casey Anthony, the public became outraged that such a villainous defendant could walk free. The result, state politicians have submitted multiple bills seeking to modify Florida's child neglect laws already on the books trying to fill the gaps in the state statutes. Miami criminal defense attorneys are familiar with the current child neglect and child abuse laws as they have not been significantly modified over the past decade. The legislature wants to specifically create a statute that makes it a crime for failing to report a child missing. While Anthony was acquitted, proponents of the legislature believe such a statute would have led to her conviction.

Opponents of the new legislature believe that the creation of news laws also create unintended affects. Florida, along with the rest of the states, do not have a statute which makes it illegal to fail to report a missing child. Eight bills have been filed in Florida and 25 other states are considering similar legislation. A Republican senator told the Select Committee on Protecting Florida's Children that the Florida laws on child neglect already cover such a scenario. Florida's current child neglect statute already provides for a crime where a defendant fails to care for a child's physical and mental health. Prosecutors did not charge Anthony with any form of child neglect for failing to report her child missing.

Florida has seen the unintended consequences of laws passed by the legislation as a result of high-profile cases. In 2005, following the murder of a 9 year-old girl named Jennifer Lunsford, legislators passed news laws in an effort to crack down on sex offenders convicted of crimes such as sexual battery and lewd and lascivious conduct. The initial laws were passed, but had to be changed as sexual offenders and sexual predators found their only refuge under the Julia Tuttle Causeway. After much media attention, the laws were modified and public housing was provided for sexual offenders who could not find places to live. No one knows what the unintended consequences would be if the child neglect laws are modified, but many legislators are convinced that Anthony would still be behind bars if a failure to report a missing child law was passed.

Child neglect and child abuse are currently felonies under Florida Law. To prove the offense of child neglect, the state has to prove that defendant willfully or by culpable negligence failed or omitted to provide a child with care supervision and services necessary to maintain the child's physical or mental health. Failing to report a missing child certainly seems to fit within the statutes purview. While a parent failing to report a missing child is an uncommon event, the legislation should hold off on passing news and unnecessary legislature until a case can be prosecuted on the laws as they stand. Adding unneeded statutes to the books in response to a high-profile media case seems to be an overreaction, while it is quite apparent that legislators have bigger problems to correct to improve the State of Florida.

Passage of a " Caylee law" No Sure Thing in Florida Senate, Palm Beach, September 19, 2011.
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