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Bad Samaritan or Abuse of a Corpse

In Rockcastle County, Kentucky a couple was charged with abuse of a corpse after the two of them drove around with a corpse for more three hours. The couple and a friend were doing  drugs when the friend overdosed and died. The couple then drove around with the dead body for three or four hours. The couple did not take the overdosed friend to the hospital. Police estimate that the couple drove pass three hospitable on their way home. The body was found in a minivan and witnesses told police that they saw the body being dragged. 

As a general rule individuals are not required, by law,  to help someone that is in distress. The law does not require a person that could help another person to do so. Instead state have created statutes that encourage people to intervene when they witness someone in distress. Most statutes gives tort immunity to individuals who attempt to be good Samaritans. See N.C. Gen. Stat. § 20-166 (giving tort immunity to any person that administers first aid at the scene of a motor vehicle accident); Ohio Rev. Code § 2305.23 (stating that no person shall be liable in civil damages for administering emergency care or treatment at the scene of an emergency). The Kentucky intervention law give people who report an overdose criminal immunity for their own drug use. 

KRS § 525.120 provides that  a person is guilty of abuse of a corpse when "he intentionally treats a corpse in a way that would outrage ordinary family sensibilities."  KRS § 525.120 (1). 

While this couple was not required by attempt to save the life of the friend that overdosed it is unclear  if the two of them abused the corpse considering the extremely subjective standard of "outrage family sensibility." In Smith v. Kentucky, 722 S. W. 2d. 892 (1987) the defendant was charged with the crime of abusing a corpse after having sex with the body of a woman that was recently murdered. Smith v. Kentucky, 722 S. W. 2d. 892, 895 (1987). In Smith it was clear that the defendant's action "outrage ordinary family sensibilities" but in the couples case driving from one city to the next with a dead person in the car may or may not rise to the level of abusing the corpse. 

The prosecutors may be using the abuse a corpse statute as a way to force drug users to report the overdoses that they witness. The case law does not support the law applying to drug users who out of fear do not take their friends to the hospital. Instead the law should apply to fact patterns similar to that in Smith.  The vagueness of "outrage ordinary family sensibilities" allows prosecutors to force witnesses to be "good Samaritans." 

Correll Kennedy


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