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Atty. Harvey I. Lapin Bio

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Human Remains Have a Unique Status

Posted by Atty. Harvey I. Lapin on July 1, 2016

  The Court of Appeal, Fifth District, California stated it was dealing with an issue of first impression in the case of People v. Reid, II, 2016 WL 1618433 (2016) in involving the theft of cremation urns containing cremated remains. According to the facts in the case Reid engaged in the following:

 “Sometime during the night of May 7, 2013, or the early morning hours of May 8, 2013, defendant entered a semi open mausoleum building at the Evergreen Funeral Home at Memorial Park in Merced. He broke into nine urn niches located in one of the mausoleum walls by smashing the glass panes enclosing each niche. Defendant then removed nine metal urns, each weighing approximately 25 pounds and collectively containing the cremated remains of 11 people. After removing the urns from the mausoleum, defendant stashed them outside. Between approximately 4:00 a.m. and 5:00 a.m. on May 8, 2013, defendant returned to the cemetery area in a van driven by an accomplice and he loaded the urns into the van. The urns were later broken down into scrap metal for recycling and the cremated remains of the 11 deceased were discarded.”

  Reid was arrested for the crimes month later when a friend advised the cemetery they should check on Reid about the missing urns. Reid was charged with 11 counts of illegal removal of remains, 11 counts of grand theft and one count of vandalism. A jury convicted Reid and the trial judge sentenced him to multiple terms in jail based on each count.

  Reid appealed the conviction and argued:

  “(1) conviction on more than one count was improper as a matter of law because the removals were pursuant to one intention, one general impulse, and one plan; (2) the statute is ambiguous and the rule of lenity requires reversal of 10 of the 11 counts; and (3) punishing him for multiple counts violates the double jeopardy clause of the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution. As to his convictions for grand theft (counts 12 through 22), defendant argues (1) conviction on more than one count was improper as a matter of law because the thefts were pursuant to one intention, one general impulse, and one plan; and (2) there was insufficient evidence to support two of the 11 counts because only nine urns were stolen. Defendant also argues the trial court erred under Penal Code section 654 when it punished him for both removing human remains and vandalism.”

  Reid argued that the Court of Appeals should extend the reasoning in two decisions of the Supreme Court of California to the removal of human remains. One case dealt with the theft of automobile radios and the other dealt with the theft of welfare benefits. In both cases the Supreme Court of California considered the theft of multiple items to be one crime. The Court of Appeals in an extended discussion, however, determined human remains have a unique status and are not the same a personal property like car radios or welfare benefits so the cases cited did not apply. Accordingly, the Court of Appeals rejected Reid’s arguments and affirmed the lower decision with one modification. Two of the urns each contained two sets of remains so Reid had only stolen 9 urns. Therefore the conviction for 11 counts of grand theft was reduced to 9.

  While this case was decide under California law, the author believes the discussion of the unique status of human remains should be of precedent value in other states. This article is for the information of subscribers and does not constitute legal advice about this subject. All subscribers should accordingly consult with their own attorney to make sure they are in compliance with the laws in their state.


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