Alabama lawmakers want to increase penalty for false report of abduction

By Mike Cason

Several Alabama lawmakers said they are working on bills to increase the penalty for reporting a false abduction, a response to the Carlee Russell case.

Russell has been charged with two misdemeanors for her false report. Legislators say stronger penalties are needed because of the amount of time and money that police, volunteers and others can spend in response to a false kidnapping report.

Sen. April Weaver, R-Brierfield, said in a news release Monday she is talking with prosecutors and law enforcement officials about a bill to make falsely reporting an abduction a felony. Reps. Juandalynn Givan, D-Birmingham, and Leigh Husley, R-Helena, have said they are working on legislation to enhance penalties , WBRC reported.

Russell sparked a massive investigation when she disappeared on July 13 after making a 911 call about a toddler walking alone on I-459. Russell showed up at her parents’ house two days later. Russell told Hoover police she was abducted but later admitted through a statement by attorney Emory Anthony that there was no abduction and no child on the interstate. Her statement included an apology to law enforcement, volunteers, and others.

Hoover police charged Russell, 26, with false reporting to law enforcement authorities and falsely reporting an incident. The Class A misdemeanors carry sentences of up to a year in jail and fines up to $6,000.

Hoover Police Chief Nick Derzis said when he announced the charges that he would be talking to state legislators about changing the law so that stiffer charges could be filed against people who falsely report a kidnapping or other violent crime.

In a press release today, Weaver said, “This fictitious kidnapping caused fear and shock not only throughout the legislative district I represent, but also throughout our state and nation. Individuals who concoct and carry out sham kidnappings and lead our law enforcement officers on wild goose chases must be given severe penalties for their deceptive actions.”

“Significant monetary and human resources were used at the local, state, and federal levels to resolve this fictitious event, and numerous volunteers donated their time in record-breaking heat to search for the reported victim,” Weaver said.

Russell was released on bond and her case is expected to be in court in October, Anthony said.

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall will handle the prosecution of Russell at the request of Hoover police.

The Legislature’s next regular session begins in February.

Earlier this year, lawmakers passed a bill sponsored by Weaver that added new restrictions to the Alabama law that allows prisoners to shorten their sentences through correctional incentive time, or “good time.” That bill was named after former Bibb County Deputy Brad Johnson, who was fatally shot in June 2022 while in pursuit of a suspect in a stolen car. The man charged in Johnson’s death had accumulated more than 2,000 days of good time while incarcerated, the Associated Press reported.

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