Center for Problem-Oriented Policing

Appendix B: Selected Federal Legislation Relating to Missing Persons

The following Congressional Acts over the past 30 years are among those that have improved the tools available to police in missing-person cases. You should also consult local legal counsel to determine specific state or local laws governing missing-persons cases. 

1980. Parental Kidnapping Prevention Act, 28 U.S.C. §1738(a). Extends federal investigation resources to local authorities, allows abductors to be charged under the Fleeing Felon Act, 18 U.S.C. §1073 (1961), and allows for the Federal Parent Locator Service, 42 USC §663 (1988), to be used in cases of child abduction. 

1982. Missing Children Act of 1982, 28 U.S.C. §534. Encourages investigation of all missing-child cases and entry of those cases into the NCIC Missing Person File and includes FBI resources in missing-child cases. 

1983. Creation of FBI’s unidentified-person file. Allows comparison of missing-child cases to information about unidentified bodies. 

1984. Missing Children’s Assistance Act, 42 U.S.C. §5771. Requires periodic studies by Office of Juvenile Justice & Delinquency Prevention to determine the number of missing and recovered children each year (see NISMART-1 and NISMART-2 studies) and creates the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NSMEC). 

1988. International Child Abduction Remedies Act, 42 U.S.C. §§11601–11610. Includes funding for the Transitional Living Program for Homeless Youth and enforcement of the Hague Convention rules for cases of internationally abducted children. 

1990. National Child Search Assistance Act, 42 U.S.C. §§5779-80. Requires immediate entry of juvenile missing-person cases into NCIC, abolishes waiting periods for missing-person and unidentified-dead reports, and requires annual statistical summaries of the number and nature of missing children. 

1993. International Parental Kidnapping Crime Act, 18 U.S.C. §1204. Makes it a federal crime to remove a child from the United States and to interfere with custodial/parental rights. 

1994. Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, 42 U.S.C. 136. Includes Jacob Wetterling Crimes Against Children and Sexually Violent Offender Registration Act (Megan’s Law) (42 U.S.C. §14071). Requires a 10-year registration requirement for offenders convicted of sexually violent offenses or criminal offenses against a victim who is a minor. Sexually violent predators have additional registration requirements, and the Child Safety Act establishes supervised visitation centers for visits between children and family members. 

1994. Nations Missing Children Organization, Inc. (NMCO) 

1997. Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act, 9(1A) U.L.A. 657. Codifies practices to reduce interstate conflict in child abduction cases and creates uniform practices in each state. 

1998. The Protection of Children from Sexual Predators Act, 18 U.S.C. §1. Provides protection for children from child pornography, increases penalties for repeat offenders in child-related crimes, and clarifies that there is no 24-hour rule before initiating a federal investigation in kidnappings of children. 

1999. Missing, Exploited, and Runaway Children Protection Act, 42 U.S.C. §5601. Funds the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NSMEC). 

2000. Child Abuse Prevention and Enforcement Act (Jennifer’s Law), 42 U.S.C. §3711. Encourages the compilation of all information about deceased, unidentified individuals into NCIC. 

2000. Kristen’s Act, 42 U.S.C. §14661. Establishes the National Center for Missing Adults and provides grants for the assistance of organizations to find missing adults. 

2002. Executive Order 13257. Designed to combat trafficking in persons and to enable prosecution of abductors. 

2003. Prosecutorial Remedies and Other Tools to End the Exploitation of Children Today Act, 18 U.S.C. §2252 and Suzanne’s Law, 42 U.S.C. §5779(c). Changes the age of mandatory missing-person case entry into NCIC from under 18 to 21 years of age, includes enhanced AMBER Alert provisions, enhances sentencing for kidnapping, establishes a Code ADAM program for children missing within a building, and changes the statute of limitations for child abductions. 

2004. Justice for All Act of 2004, 42 U.S.C. §13701. Establishes funding for DNA initiatives, including the identification of missing persons and the report Identifying the Missing: Model State Legislation

2006. Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act, 42 U.S.C. §16901. Amends the National Child Search Assistance Act to include a mandate that missing-children cases are entered into NCIC within two hours of receipt of the report. 

2008. The Suzanne Lyall Campus Safety Act. Requires colleges to specify roles for campus, local, and state police in investigating violent crimes on campus, including those involving missing students. 

2010. Help Find the Missing Act (Billy’s Law). Establishes funding for NamUs and for incentive grants for reporting missing persons and unidentified dead to NCIC, NamUs, and the National DNA Index System. 

There is additional pending relevant legislation in each state. For example, Minnesota has pending legislation that would require cell phone companies to make records and activity (e.g., ping records) immediately available to police in missing-person cases in which such persons are believed to be in imminent danger. Other states, including Kansas and Nebraska, already have similar legislation. The state of New York allows relatives of missing persons the opportunity to bank their DNA for future possible links to missing persons and unidentified dead. 

Go to www.Namus.gov and click on “resources” to find legislation by state for missing persons.

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