Committee examines missing children laws in response to Casey Anthony caseby Dara Kam | September 19th, 2011
A select committee headed by Sen. Joe Negron began looking into whether Florida’s laws need to be changed in reaction to the Casey Anthony case, in which a jury cleared the Orange County woman of killing her 2-year-old daughter Caylee Marie.
Caylee Anthony was last seen on June 15, 2008. Her mother waited a month before telling her parents or police that the child was missing. Caylee Anthony’s body was found in December 2008, but her body was so decomposed medical examiners could not determine the cause of death.
Following Casey Anthony’s acquittal, state lawmakers filed more than a half-dozen bills that would impose fines or jail sentences for failing to report a missing child, currently not a crime in Florida or any other state.
Senate President Mike Haridopolos created the Select Committee on Protecting Florida’s Children to make recommendations on possible changes to the law.
At the committee’s first meeting Monday afternoon, Negron said the select committee’s first order of business will be to decide whether new laws are needed and cautioned against allowing emotions to prevail in crafting legislation.
“The committee is not here to second guess the jury,” Negron, R-Stuart, said.
Florida already has laws on the books criminalizing child abuse and neglect, Negron pointed out. But Anthony was not charged with abuse or neglect. Instead, prosecutors charged her with murder. A jury acquitted her on July 5 but found her guilty of giving law enforcement officials false information in connection with the case.
Anthony would have been guilty of abuse or neglect, Negron said, because she did not know where her two-year-old child was for days or weeks.
Negron recalled an occasion when his son, six or seven years old at the time, and a friend momentarily went missing for moments at a theme park.
“Forget hours or days, within minutes, you’re in a complete state. Frantic,” Negron said. “If it went beyond several minutes into several hours and days that perhaps…that would be considered neglect of a child.”
Following the murder of Jessica Lunsford, lawmakers passed legislation cracking down on sex offenders that they were later forced to tweak because they were overly broad. Negron warned about similar unintended consequences as they craft new bills.
“We’re going to have just one goal in mind and that is what can we do to protect children. And I come at it that the primary duty to protect children rests with the parents,” Negron said.