Dead Guy Sentenced to Six Months (Suspended)

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The Associated Press reported last week that a Greek court had convicted a 46-year-old man of stealing electricity, although at the time of trial he had been dead for a couple of weeks.

Normally, being dead is a pretty good defense, as long as you are actually and not just legally dead. In this case, the problem may have been a failure of proof. The report says that although the defendant died on April 8, his defense lawyer “was not told until the eve of the trial.” (We do try to check in with clients beforehand but it isn’t always possible.) The lawyer informed the court of his client’s new status, but apparently didn’t have any evidence of it because he asked to have the trial deferred until he could present the death certificate. Many judges will accept a lawyer’s representation of facts like these, at least when we’re only trying to get something postponed. But not this time.

On Tuesday, the court proceeded to convict the decedent in absentia, and sentenced him to six months in jail. The sentence was suspended, though, and it seems unlikely that the defendant is going to get in any trouble at this point, so he is still effectively off the hook.

Having been reminded of Donald Miller, who has been legally dead since 1994 although he physically lives in Ohio, I checked on that situation and can report that the government is no longer demanding that his daughters pay back the death benefits they received during his “absence.” Undeterred by Miller’s legal demise—which a local judge refused to undo after he resurfaced in 2013—the Social Security Administration had been hounding his daughters for almost $50,000. According to this 2014 report in The Courier (reg. required), it later decided to write off the amount.

So far there is no sign that the SSA is going after Miller himself, which would make more sense.  I couldn’t find any precedent on whether being legally dead might be a valid defense, but it seems very doubtful. Actual death, maybe. Or maybe not.