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.”
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.
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