Although we haven't discussed abuse of corpse statutes in Funeral and Cemetery Law yet this semester, this week five students have written posts about the treatment of human remains and analyze whether that constitutes abuse of corpse in various states.
Section 250.10 of the Model Penal Code is entitled "Abuse of Corpse." It provides that "[e]xcept as authorized by law, a person who treats a corpse in a way that he knows would outrage ordinary family sensibilities commits a misdemeanor." About a dozen states follow the Model Penal Code approach, but more states have more detailed statutes. Sometimes, but surprisingly, not always, abuse of corpse statutes specifically reference and prohibit necrophilia.
Brittany Colton discusses the unauthorized removal of the corpse of Julie Mott from a Texas funeral home in August and concludes that the removal violates Texas Penal Code § 42.08(a) which is triggered if a person "carries away, or treats in an offensive manner a human corpse."
Sabrina Huffman examines the discovery of 11 decomposing bodies in a Toledo, Ohio funeral home and the decision to charge the funeral director, Robert Tate, with abuse of corpse under Ohio Revised Code 2927.01. Unlike the Texas statute, Ohio follows the Model Penal Code approach to abuse of corpse, which simply refers to treatment that would "outrage reasonable community sensibilities" or "reasonable family sensibilities."
Katie McAbee discusses the same Ohio statute, this time in the context of an Ohio man who murdered his girlfriend and then stashed her remains in a closet before interring her in a shallow grave. McAbee and Huffman both refer to Ohio court decisions that conclude that the Ohio statute is not unconstitutionally vague, but McAbee questions those holdings and advocates for Ohio to abandon the Model Penal Code approach and adopt a more concrete statute like New Jersey's, which is triggered if a person "unlawfully disturbs, moves, or conceals human remains."
Katie Ott also discusses the Ohio abuse of corpse statute (seriously, what's going on in Ohio??) in the context of a funeral home which misplaced a body and then displayed the wrong set of remains at a viewing. The family has sued and Ott asks whether the funeral home's actions also violate the abuse of corpse statute.
Finally, Shawn Briggs-Seward illustrates how difficult it may be to determine "reasonable" community or family sensibilities as she examines two reported cases involving the cremated remains (cremains) of Keith Richards' father and Tupac Shakur. These cases are particularly interesting because they both death with cremains, not intact human remains. Briggs-Seward asks whether abuse of corpse statutes should apply in such cases.
These five blog posts demonstrate the continuing relevance of the little-known abuse of corpse statutes in American law. They also demonstrate the uncertainty regarding the application and enforcement of these statutes. All of the different formulations of the crime speak to the same idea—human remains should be treated with respect. But states vary significantly in terms of what that means.