Carlee Russell’s Alabama abduction hoax could affect legislation

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall said last year there were “actual” and “societal costs” after an Alabama woman called 911 in what was later revealed to be a hoax, one that gained national attention and led police and others to search for her, believing she was abducted after the call. 

Carlee Russell, 25, was found guilty late last year, charged with the misdemeanor crimes of filing a false report with law enforcement and falsely reporting an incident. 

Prosecutors in Alabama are seeking at least one year in jail, and restitution of $17,974.

WBRC in Alabama reported that the chief counsel for Marshall, Katherine Robertson, has helped to author potential legislation to “beef” up how the crimes are punished, after Hoover Police Chief Nick Derzis and others expressed frustration that harsher penalties were not available. 

Russell caused authorities to spend days and resources searching for her, believing she had disappeared after pulling over on the side of I-459 in Alabama after claiming she had seen an abandoned child. City, state and federal law enforcement joined in the search. 

Robertson, explaining the goal of the draft legislation she’s working on, said, “To have that option to go higher than a misdemeanor is important when the false report is threatening.” 

Marshall said in an interview on Fox News, reported on by 1819 News, “Clearly, the City of Hoover, through their police department as well as surrounding law enforcement agencies, expended significant resources to try to make sure we could locate not only Carlee Russell but — don’t forget, the allegation involved an infant on the side of a busy highway.” 

Marshall said, “We put significant resources into being able to try to find both. Now, obviously, we know that was a false allegation, and it is our intention through this criminal prosecution to make sure we recover that restitution but also understand the impact on society. You had countless individuals come out late, early, in the heat in Alabama looking for both of these individuals. One thing I don’t want to see from this is people become jaded in their response at times when their help was necessary.”

In August of last year, the Alabama Political Reporter covered Sen. April Weaver’s efforts to try to introduce a bill that would focus on increasing charges for individuals who report “sham kidnappings.”

Sen. Weaver said the legislation would try to increase prison sentences and require mandatory restitution.

Sen. Weaver said, “This fictitious kidnapping caused fear and shock not only throughout the legislative district I represent, but also throughout our state and nation.”

Days after Russell went missing, police in Hoover held a press conference and read a statement from Russell’s attorney describing how his client lied to police.

“We know by her own admission that it didn’t happen,” Derzis said.

Russell is set to appear in court on Monday, March 18, 2024, at 9 a.m. for a scheduled jury trial, according to court filings.