ALBANY, N.Y., July 18 (Reuters) - Citing the recent acquittal of Casey Anthony, some New York state lawmakers want to make it a felony to fail to report a missing or dead child, but many legal experts say the proposal is unnecessary and could compound family court proceedings.
The proposal, dubbed "Caylee's Law" after Anthony's 2-year-old daughter, who was found dead in 2008 after Anthony failed to report her missing for 31 days, would make it a class E felony to go more than 72 hours without notifying authorities of a missing child and 24 hours without reporting a death. Similar proposals have been announced in at least two dozen other states.
The bill has not yet been formally introduced in New York, but lawmakers who have announced their intention to propose the measure said it would give prosecutors an additional tool in exceptional cases.
"You feel crazy legislating common sense, but we've seen that in certain cases you do need this legislation," said Sen. David Carlucci, a Democrat who represents part of the suburbs north of New York City.
Carlucci and Assemblywoman Grace Meng, a Queens Democrat, both said their local district attorneys voiced support for the measure, although they could not recall a case where the law would have helped secure a conviction.
But a number of legal experts said the proposal is redundant, since failing to report a missing child can already net the misdemeanor charge of endangering the welfare of a child. Further, they said, a class E felony is unlikely to deter a parent willing to murder a child and cover up the disappearance.
"There is no deterrent value, and it would only have punishment value in the very, very rare case where a parent can't be fingered for homicide, child abuse or endangerment," said Ted Frank, an analyst at the Manhattan Institute's Center for Legal Policy.
MORE FALSE ALARMS
Frank also said a majority of missing child reports are false alarms, and having Caylee's Law on the books would only add to the number of false reports.
Westchester County District Attorney Janet DiFiore, who is also the president of the state District Attorneys Association, said in a statement that the DAA is reviewing a number of proposals, including a more stringent measure that would give parents just 24 hours to report a missing child and one hour to report a death.
"Any tool that would enhance the ability of police and prosecutors in an investigation is worth being given serious consideration," she said.
DiFiore also wants lawmakers to consider steeper penalties for parents who lie to police during missing-child investigations. Anthony was convicted of four counts of lying to investigators, and was sentenced to the maximum four years in prison.
There are also concerns that Caylee's Law could complicate family court proceedings that arise from civil charges of child neglect.
"It's more difficult to resolve the case in an appropriate or helpful way with a criminal charge hanging over it. You make it more difficult for the parent to admit mistakes," said Meril Sobie, a professor at Pace Law School and the chairman of the state Bar Association's Committee on Children and Law.
SUPPORT FOR BILL
Sobie and Frank also gave examples of hypothetical situations in which Caylee's Law would apply but would be an inappropriate charge -- for example, if an adolescent gets into an argument with a parent and stays with a friend or relative for several days.
"There are already laws on the books for really egregious parenting that endangers a child, so this is only going to make a difference in cases where the parent probably didn't do anything wrong," Frank said.
Meng, the potential Assembly sponsor of the bill, said she is working to ensure the law is crafted narrowly so it can't be abused by prosecutors. She also said about 30 of her colleagues have already signaled their support.
"This bill is not going to save a child from being hurt by a psychopath, but it would make it harder for someone to cover up a crime" such as murder, Meng said.
This year's legislative session ended in June, so lawmakers would be unlikely to take up the measure until next year.
(Reporting by Dan Wiessner)