SPRINGFIELD -- As a criminal defense attorney, public defender Stephen Baker doesn’t often support laws that add new statutes to the criminal code. But as the director of legislative affairs for the Illinois Public Defenders Association, he sees the writing on the wall for Caylee’s Law. 

SPRINGFIELD -- As a criminal defense attorney, public defender Stephen Baker doesn’t often support laws that add new statutes to the criminal code. 

But as the director of legislative affairs for the Illinois Public Defenders Association, he sees the writing on the wall for Caylee’s Law. Six versions of the bill, which are a reaction to the Casey Anthony case in Florida, are pending in the General Assembly.

All of the proposals would do the same thing: criminalize the failure of parents or guardians to report a child’s disappearance or death to law enforcement.

House Bill 3804, sponsored by Rep. Jack Franks, D-Marengo, has moved the furthest through the legislative process. It cleared the House Judiciary Committee for criminal law on Thursday.

Franks’ bill would make it a felony for a parent or a legal guardian to fail to report the disappearance of a child under the age of 13 to law enforcement officials within 24 hours. A violation would be punishable by one to three years in prison and a $25,000 fine.

If a child under 2 dies or disappears, the parents would have no more than an hour to alert authorities

Public defenders don’t like the bill, but are willing to work with Franks and other legislators on wording, Baker said.

“If the bill is going to move, make it better,” he said.

Franks said his bill won’t punish parents whose children go missing if they’re in the care of another family member or away at summer camp, or in other circumstances beyond their control.

“All of those concerns have been alleviated,” Franks said. “We’ve worked very hard on this bill.”

Differences

Franks’ bill is similar to Senate Bill 2537, proposed by Sen. Ira Silverstein, D-Chicago.

But Silverstein’s bill would have parents or caretakers in violation of the law if they fail to report that the child is “potentially in danger of death and serious injury.” Baker said the phrase “potentially in danger” is too vague.

“Every child is potentially in danger, everyone is potentially in danger,” Baker said. “The use of the words potentially and danger is unconstitutionally vague in other statues in other contexts.”

State Sen. Larry Bomke, R-Springfield, is also sponsoring a version of Caylee’s law, but his proposal  treats a dead child and a missing child differently. A dead child under 18 is to be reported within 12 hours. A missing child 13 or younger must be reported within 24 hours, under the proposal.

“I can’t imagine why any parent wouldn’t report their child was dead. I can’t imagine how this would be an overreaction,” Bomke said.

 

Nationwide trend

Illinois is one of 17 states that have some version of Caylee’s Law working through the legislative process, according to the National Conference of State Legislators.

However, Baker said it won’t work for legislators to copy and paste laws from different states.

“Depending on the legal culture in different states, you’re going to have different phraseology,” Baker said. “You can’t just plug the New Jersey statute into Illinois.”

Casey Anthony case

The law was inspired by the actions of Florida mother Casey Anthony, who was the subject of a murder trial that received intense nationwide media coverage.

On July 15, 2008, Anthony told police she had not seen her 2-year-old daughter Caylee in 31 days. She later would give authorities different responses about what happened to her daughter.

Caylee Anthony’s body was found in December 2008 in woods near her home. Her mother was charged with murdering Caylee, but ultimately was convicted only of providing false information to police.

Florida had no law criminalizing a parent’s failure to report a child’s disappearance or death.

David Thomas can be reached at (217) 782-6292.