What the Judge Really Said image

What the Judge Really Said

The news that a man from Ohio is very much alive but legally dead is amusing as well as (in the words of the judge) a “strange, strange situation.” As a Brit there is an obvious temptation to shake the head and mutter, ‘Those crazy Americans’, but cousin-baiting aside, this case does provide an interesting study in the limits of human law.

Donald Miller disappeared in 1986, was declared legally dead in 1994 and despite resurfacing (resurrecting?) in 2005 remains dead in the eyes of the State, as death rulings cannot be overturned after three years. While giving all the appearances of life, he is unable to engage in the acts of the living – no driving licence, no vote, no civic responsibilities or rights.

Theologically, we might describe this as ‘imputed death’. The man is counted as dead, not because of any deadness of his own but because of the power of death exercised through the law. In the language of the law court, it makes absolute sense to say that the judge has imputed, imparted, bequeathed, conveyed or otherwise transferred the status of death to the plaintiff. Death is not an object, a substance or a gas, but it has been passed across the courtroom.

And that is quite something!

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