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What Are the Penalties for Desecrating the Dead?

By George Khoury, Esq. | Last updated on

When a person dies, the deceased may still have some legal rights when it comes to how their body is handled and treated. In most if not all states, there are criminal penalties, as well as potential civil liability, for desecrating a dead body.

Desecration of a deceased individual can include actions such as:

If a deceased's family, executor, or next of kin, learns that their loved one has been mistreated, they may have a civil legal action against the individual who committed the bad act, and even potentially the mortuary, funeral home, or other entity that had possession of the deceased when the misdeed occurred.

Funeral Home and Cemetery Liability

Despite how vulnerable individuals can be while grieving the loss of a loved one, the funeral home and cemetery industries attract unscrupulous individuals looking to make as much money as possible, just like any other business. However, unlike many other service industry businesses, the funeral and cemetery industries tend to be highly regulated by state law for the express purpose of preventing funeral service providers from taking advantage of grieving individuals.

When a funeral home or cemetery makes a mistake during the burial or funeral process, unlike most breach of contract cases, emotional distress damages may be available to the family, or next of kin.

Criminal Liability

Although funeral homes and cemeteries tend to face the brunt of the civil legal liability for desecration of the deceased, individuals tend to face the criminal charges for abusing a corpse, sometimes even in unlikely scenarios. In Kentucky, for example, a couple was charged with abuse of a corpse after it was discovered that they drove for over three hours with the dead body of their friend that had overdosed in the car.

Under a Kentucky statute, abuse of a corpse occurs when someone intentionally treats a corpse in a way that would outrage ordinary family sensibilities. What made the situation so outrageous was that the couple never attempted to get help, despite passing multiple hospitals, and that the body was discovered by police rather than reported by the "so-called" friends.

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