So, the missing bride-to-be has been found, and it turns out that she, as some suspected, had merely run away, and was not abducted. Police said there would be no criminal charges, despite the fact that Jennifer Wilbanks had called to report that she had been abducted.
Frankly, it kind of surprises me that she is not being charged with falsely reporting an incident. I'm fairly certain that if the same incident occurred in my jurisdiction, she would have been. In fact, I've seen it in cases that have wasted much less in terms of police time and resources. It seems as though everyone is taking the "we're just glad she's alive" approach.
But should criminal charges be brought? I think the answer is yes. She wasted not just hours, but days of police officers' and volunteers' time. I don't know, but it's possible that drivers of blue vans were stopped unnecessarily as part of the investigation. Her fiance was considered a suspect and even took a lie detector test. Had she never shown up, it's possible that he could've faced serious charges.
Perhaps most importantly, though, I think that many laws are written because our legislature takes the approach of "What if everyone did that?" For example, it might not be so bad for you, individually, to litter from time to time. But it's a crime because if everyone - all 290-something million of us - litter from time to time, we'll be walking around in a trash heap. Likewise, it might not be so bad if you, individually, shoplifted just a little something when you couldn't afford to pay for it. But if everyone did it, businesses would likely close down.
The same goes for falsely reporting an abduction. If everyone did it, we would eventually reach a point where police wouldn't investigate abduction reports. Moreover, each year, thousands of adults and children are reported missing - how would you feel if you knew your loved one's investigation was put on hold while the police chased down a bride with cold feet?
That said, what is a fair punishment? I think it depends on a person's record (and certainly someone who commits this crime more than once should be dealt with more harshly), but I think that she owes some community service to the community who put so much effort into searching for her. Maybe she could volunteer at a search center to see what these families go through, and to repay her debt.
In the end, I think that this woman will end up living with a lot of shame for what she did to her family, friends, and this community. But if feeling shameful were enough to avoid criminal prosecution, I have many clients who should have their charges dropped.