“This Isn’t About Casey Anthony Anymore”

AuthorKelly M. Socia,Elizabeth K. Brown
Published date01 June 2016
Date01 June 2016
Subject MatterArticles
Criminal Justice Policy Review
2016, Vol. 27(4) 348 –377
© 2014 SAGE Publications
Reprints and permissions:
DOI: 10.1177/0887403414551000
“This Isn’t About Casey
Anthony Anymore”: Political
Rhetoric and Caylee’s Law
Kelly M. Socia1 and Elizabeth K. Brown2
The 2011 trial of Casey Anthony for the murder of her child, Caylee, dominated media,
public, and political attention in the United States. Anthony’s acquittal prompted many
lawmakers to rally around “Caylee’s Law,” legislation that criminalizes the failure to
report a missing child. This article considers the political rhetoric of Caylee’s Law
by qualitatively evaluating statements made by state policymakers across the United
States for the 12 months following Anthony’s acquittal. Policymakers’ rhetoric on
Caylee’s Law exemplified the tendency to mobilize political action around “triggering
events” through claims-making, to justify new penal legislation on the basis of
worst case scenarios and public fears, and to demonize the accused in ways that
reaffirm social solidarity in the face of heinous crimes. Policymakers used a variety of
interconnected techniques to make claims about child protection, to justify the need
for Caylee’s Law, and to label and degrade Casey Anthony.
claims-making, community perceptions, public policies, parental responsibility,
political rhetoric
On July 5, 2011, at the conclusion of a highly publicized case, Casey Anthony was
acquitted for the abuse and murder of her 2-year-old daughter Caylee in Florida (see
Riparbelli, 2011). An important part of the trial had focused on the extended length of
time it took for Casey to report her daughter missing to police. Through the media
1University of Massachusetts, Lowell, USA
2University of Massachusetts, Boston, USA
Corresponding Author:
Kelly M. Socia, School of Criminology and Justice Studies, University of Massachusetts, HSSB Building,
Rm. 483, 113 Wilder Street, Lowell, MA 01854-3060, USA.
Email: Kelly_Socia@uml.edu
551000CJPXXX10.1177/0887403414551000Criminal Justice Policy ReviewSocia and Brown
Socia and Brown 349
coverage of the trial, the public learned that Florida law did not require parents or
guardians to inform law enforcement of the disappearance of a child within a given
time period. As such, even though Casey Anthony waited 31 days to report her daugh-
ter missing, prosecutors could not charge her with violating any existing law by wait-
ing so long. Although Anthony was charged and convicted on four counts of providing
false information to authorities, this was not a result of waiting to report her daughter
Media coverage about, and the public’s response to, the verdict (and at Casey
Anthony) came swiftly. For example, within hours of the verdict, Oklahoma resident
Michelle Crowder set up a petition on the website Change.org (2012) that called for
the enactment of new state laws (nationwide) related to the case. Crowder’s proposed
law would make it a felony for a parent or guardian to not report a child missing within
24 hr of learning of the disappearance. Crowder named the proposed law “Caylee’s
Law” after the victim in the case (Caylee Anthony). This move echoed the similarly
emotionally laden strategy used to garner support for other child protection laws by
naming them after high-profile child victims (e.g., Megan’s Law, Jessica’s Law;
Simon, 2000).
The number of signatures on the petition grew quickly. The petition was posted on
June 6, 2011, just 1 day after the verdict. By the following day, the petition had more
than 100,000 signatures, and after just 4 days, more than 1,000,000 signatures (Change.
org, 2012). As of June 5, 2012, the petition had accumulated 1,308,199 signatures
from individuals across the country. The petition also garnered much media attention
when it was initially posted (e.g., Riparbelli, 2011), likely helping to increase the num-
ber of people who signed it.
A public opinion poll conducted July 2011, just 1 month after the verdict (and the
start of the petition), indicated solid support for Caylee’s Law across the United States.
Specifically, the representative poll found that approximately 7 in 10 Americans sup-
ported enacting state legislation that would “make it a felony for parents or guardians
to wait more than an hour before reporting the death or disappearance of a child to the
proper authorities” (Angus Reid Public Opinion, 2011, p. 6).
Across the country, at least 124 state representatives and senators from 34 states
responded to this public support by calling for or otherwise discussing the enactment
of Caylee’s Law in their states (see Table 1). In the months following the verdict, pro-
posals for Caylee’s Law were introduced in state legislatures around the country
(Associated Press, 2011a). Through press releases, newspaper op-eds, speeches, and
interviews with the media, politicians discussed the need for such a law and their
intentions to propose or support some version of Caylee’s Law in their respective
While calls for new legislation following high-profile cases involving children as
victims, and White children especially, are common in contemporary penal policy-
making (Simon, 2007), the Casey Anthony case provides an opportunity to examine
how policymakers promote the need for new legislation in a case involving familial
violence, rather than stranger-perpetrated offenses. That is, familial violence precludes
the common “stranger danger” rhetoric that has been used in the past to promote and

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