Monday, August 31, 2009

Beware Jaycee's Law

Horrific crimes involving children can yield even more horrific laws. The abduction of Megan Kanka brought us Megan's law; Adam Walsh's death yielded the Adam Walsh law. There is something about the terror these sorts of crimes inspire that make us want to do something to make sure nothing like them can ever happen again. So we parse the requirements of justice with a meat clever, insuring that others get hurt in the process, as is the case with our scattershot approach to the public registration of all sorts of people as sex offenders.

It did not surprise me, therefore, to see legislation proposed in the wake of the Jaycee Dugard case. The woman was abducted 18 years ago as her horrified father watched. She was then kept prisoner all those years, forced to live in squalor. She bore two of her captor's children. The man accused of his holding her captive, Phillip Garrido, is a convicted sex offender; his wife, too, has been charged.

The case not merely horrifies, it also saddens. Neighbors of the Garrido's in Antioch, California, knew that something was up. The police missed clues. Mr. Garrido's parole officer was apparently asleep at the switch. In sum, this horror was preventable. If only...

If only what? If only people had acted on their hunches. Legislation proposed in three states last week would create a legal duty to act. Called Jaycees Care and Compassion Act, the legislation requires the following.

* A private person with reasonable suspicison to believe his neighbor is engaged in foul play has a legal duty to report this to the police. A person who fails to act can be charged with misprision of a felony.

* A private person with reasonable suspicion to believe his neighbor is engaged in foul play is permitted to demand permission to make a spot search of the neighbor's premises without liability for civil suit or criminal prosecution. A person searching must give the police 30 minutes notice, presumably so police can come, prevent a breach, and, if exigent circumstances arise, do a search of their own.

* Private parties have an affirmative obligation to act. A breach of this obligation supports a claim for civil damages. This claim can be brought either by the victim of any crime, or by the state's victim's advocate.

"We are our neighbor's keepers," said Millicent Truelove, the Idaho Democrat sponsoring the legislation. "This legislation is narrowly focused to require citizens to act, but to keep the state out of our homes. Who can object to a law that seeks merely to promote a broader sense of community?"

Now here is the kicker: This piece is satire, but you didn't suspect that unless you live in Idaho and know there is no such Democrat as Millicent Truelove serving as a lawmaker. Be wary, Jaycee's law is coming. It is merely a question of what form it will take,