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Is falsifying a state document (Medical Examiner Report)and lying to the medical examiner along with the Funeral director about being next of kin to a loved one considered perjury and can that person(s) be held in contempt? My ex-MIL, SIL & BIL lied to the Funeral director about my EX-Husband not having any children - when in fact we have 4, 3 of which are adults. They concealed he committed suicide, had him cremated and a private service for him and would not allow any publication so we would not find out. I received a letter from D.E.S. about my child support case being closed approx 3 weeks after his death and 1-2 weeks after being cremated and having a service. We were married for 18 yrs and divorced for the past 8 yrs. My children are devastated and per A.R.S. statue are considered next of kin. They would have never made the decision to cremate their father - they now have not been afforded that opportunity and the Ex-laws MIL, SIL, BIL will not return any phone calls, and will not give cremains back to the children. I even offered to share half of the remains, and she told the Funeral Director we could sue her! Such unnecessary pain and anguish to my children not to mention the expense. There was no will - he died pennilessly - committed suicide in a hotel paid month to month by his mother. We will have to file in Probate Court first, but we are hopeful it's considered perjury to lie/falsify state documents.

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Contempt

This is not contempt of court, which happens only in the physical presence of a judge, or in relation to a court order known by the person to be held in contempt to exist and related to that person in some way.

Potential Criminal Liability

Criminal liability is an offense which can only be brought by the prosecutor's office in Arizona, for which the punishment is incarceration and/or a fine payable to the state and/or restitution for narrowly defined strictly economic losses to victims of a crime and court costs.

It appears from your reference to A.R.S. that you are referring to the Arizona Revised Statutes, although it could conceivably be another state whose name starts with an "A".

It would generally only be perjury if it was made "under penalty of perjury" or under an oath, or following an affirmation to tell the truth administered by someone who can administer oaths. The best way to determine if this was perjury would be to look at the fine print near the signature line of any form completed by them.

The perjury statute in Arizona states:

13-2702. Perjury; classification

A. A person commits perjury by making either:

  1. A false sworn statement in regard to a material issue, believing it to be false.

  2. A false unsworn declaration, certificate, verification or statement in regard to a material issue that the person subscribes as true under penalty of perjury, believing it to be false.

B. Perjury is a class 4 felony.

It might be a fraudulent scheme:

13-2311. Fraudulent schemes and practices; wilful concealment; classification

A. Notwithstanding any provision of the law to the contrary, in any matter related to the business conducted by any department or agency of this state or any political subdivision thereof, any person who, pursuant to a scheme or artifice to defraud or deceive, knowingly falsifies, conceals or covers up a material fact by any trick, scheme or device or makes or uses any false writing or document knowing such writing or document contains any false, fictitious or fraudulent statement or entry is guilty of a class 5 felony.

B. For the purposes of this section, "agency" includes a public agency as defined by section 38-502, paragraph 6.

A different kind of fraudulent scheme is less likely to apply:

13-2310. Fraudulent schemes and artifices; classification; definition

A. Any person who, pursuant to a scheme or artifice to defraud, knowingly obtains any benefit by means of false or fraudulent pretenses, representations, promises or material omissions is guilty of a class 2 felony.

B. Reliance on the part of any person shall not be a necessary element of the offense described in subsection A of this section.

C. A person who is convicted of a violation of this section that involved a benefit with a value of one hundred thousand dollars or more or the manufacture, sale or marketing of opioids is not eligible for suspension of sentence, probation, pardon or release from confinement on any basis except pursuant to section 31-233, subsection A or B until the sentence imposed by the court has been served, the person is eligible for release pursuant to section 41-1604.07 or the sentence is commuted.

D. This state shall apply the aggregation prescribed by section 13-1801, subsection B to violations of this section in determining the applicable punishment.

E. For the purposes of this section, "scheme or artifice to defraud" includes a scheme or artifice to deprive a person of the intangible right of honest services.

It is a crime in almost every U.S. state to provide a false report to a government medical examiner, although most likely a misdemeanor rather than a more serious felony offense like perjury, and the exact name of that offense would vary quite a bit. One possible offense in Arizona might be "Tampering With a Public Record"

13-2407. Tampering with a public record; classification

A. A person commits tampering with a public record if, with the intent to defraud or deceive, such person knowingly:

  1. Makes or completes a written instrument, knowing that it has been falsely made, which purports to be a public record or true copy thereof or alters or makes a false entry in a written instrument which is a public record or a true copy of a public record; or

  2. Presents or uses a written instrument which is or purports to be a public record or a copy of such public record, knowing that it has been falsely made, completed or altered or that a false entry has been made, with intent that it be taken as genuine; or

  3. Records, registers or files or offers for recordation, registration or filing in a governmental office or agency a written statement which has been falsely made, completed or altered or in which a false entry has been made or which contains a false statement or false information; or

  4. Destroys, mutilates, conceals, removes or otherwise impairs the availability of any public record; or

  5. Refuses to deliver a public record in such person's possession upon proper request of a public servant entitled to receive such record for examination or other purposes.

B. In this section "public record" means all official books, papers, written instruments or records created, issued, received or kept by any governmental office or agency or required by law to be kept by others for the information of the government.

C. Tampering with a public record is a class 6 felony.

It might also constitute making a false unsworn statement:

13-2704. Unsworn falsification; classification

A. A person commits unsworn falsification by knowingly:

  1. Making any statement that he believes to be false, in regard to a material issue, to a public servant in connection with an application for any benefit, privilege or license.

  2. Making any statement that he believes to be false in regard to a material issue to a public servant in connection with any official proceeding as defined in section 13-2801.

B. Unsworn falsification pursuant to paragraph 1, subsection A, is a class 2 misdemeanor. Unsworn falsification pursuant to subsection A, paragraph 2 is a class 1 misdemeanor.

An official proceeding is defined as:

13-2801. Definitions

In this chapter, unless the context otherwise requires:

  1. "Juror" means any person who is a member of any impaneled jury or grand jury, and includes any person who has been drawn or summoned to attend as a prospective juror.

  2. "Official proceeding" means a proceeding heard before any legislative, judicial, administrative or other governmental agency or official authorized to hear evidence under oath.

  3. "Physical evidence" means any article, object, document, record or other thing of physical substance.

  4. "Testimony" means oral or written statements, documents or any other material that may be offered by a witness in an official proceeding.

  5. "Threat" means a threat proscribed by section 13-1804, subsection A.

Medical examiners are capable of conducting official proceedings (called "inquests"), but it isn't clear if the report made to the medical examiner was testimony in an official proceeding or not.

Whether or not there was any criminal liability for making a false report to the funeral director would depend mostly upon whether funeral directors have some official duties to the state to report information to one or more government offices, in which case, this might be a misdemeanor offense of providing a false report. But, if the funeral director is just a privately owned business and the information is provided to the funeral director solely to allow the funeral director to provide a private sector service, it would probably not be a crime to lie to the funeral director.

While it isn't entirely inconceivable that their conduct could constitute desecration of a corpse under a broadly worded statute (usually a misdemeanor or very minor felony), it is much more likely that it would not. Arizona does not have an offense of this type.

Civil Liability

Civil liability is something that one person can sue another person for with the end result being that the defendants is ordered to pay a prevailing plaintiff money damages in an amount determined by a judge or jury. Collection of these money damages is at the expense of the person suing through means like garnishments, liens on real property, and seizures of personal property. Awards for unintentional wrongs can usually be discharged in bankruptcy. Awards for intentional wrongs usually cannot be discharged in bankruptcy if a timely objection to discharge is made in a bankruptcy court.

They concealed he committed suicide, had him cremated and a private service for him and would not allow any publication[.]

These acts, that far, would probably not be actionable or criminal, because the motive to protect his reputation by not disclosing the suicide would ordinarily be deemed an acceptable one. So would not informing you directly.

But, hiding this information from the children and excluding them from having a say in the disposition of their father's body through fraud would be problematic and would be the acts that might give rise to civil liability.

The Funeral Director/Funeral Home

In the absence of something that really should have tipped off the funeral director, the funeral director normally wouldn't have civil liability to anyone for anything that happened before the funeral director had any reason to know what happened, but might have civil liability to the children for negligence if the funeral director mishandled the situation after discovering it (probably a close call legally). Damages would probably be limited to emotional distress damages and nominal damages. Even a colorable claim against the funeral director expressed in a demand letter would probably produce a swift settlement if the demand was not outrageous in exchange for confidentiality regarding the situation and non-disparagement of the funeral home, because this kind of thing could be devastating to the reputation of the funeral home.

This is not a claim for which the children could have their attorneys' fees awarded to them.

None of the misrepresentations to the funeral director harmed the funeral director, so their acts wouldn't be simple fraud (either criminal or civil).

The Late Husband's Other Relatives

Their civil liability for a misrepresentation to the medical examiner would be pretty much limited to economic harm to the children arising from that misrepresentation, possibly including the value of time and legal fees incurred to correct the false information provided. And, even then, it might be hard to find a suitable cause of action to enforce that liability. It would not be simple fraud because the misrepresentation wasn't made directly to them.

The strongest civil claim of the children would probably be to have a civil claim against them for "outrageous conduct"/"intentional infliction of emotional distress" for which emotional distress damages and punitive damages could be awarded.

These are not claims for which the children could have their attorneys' fees awarded to them.

Conclusion

It is not possible to narrow down this laundry list of possibilities without much more precise and detailed information. But, if that information was provided in this forum, it would probably push this question into one asking for specific legal advice which is off topic. So, you need to evaluate the detailed facts in light of this information and come to your own conclusion over whether further action in the form of making a report to the police or a district attorney, or contacting a private lawyer makes sense in this case.

  • May I just say THANK YOU!!! I wholeheartedly agree with your conclusion - it would be inappropriate to provide specific details, and no two cases are ever the same. I did visit the police initially and needed the Medical Examiner's report (which I have now) and I personally contacted the Attorney General's Office, they too suggested the Attorney for representation. I am in the process of narrowing down that LONG list as we speak :) I reside in Arizona, and it's difficult to choose the "right one", but I sincerely appreciate all your thoughts and potential direction to take. – Lisa Houlihan Feb 14 at 0:13

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