What will happen if a legally dead but actually living person commits a crime after they are declared legally dead?

I wonder whether they will have a normal or posthumous trial. Or will they be tried only after their death status got overturned (which may take between a few months and never). Or they will not be tried at all because it is impossible for them to commit crime after death.

  • 2
    Surely one interpretation would be this: "You claim to be Joe Bloggs, but Joe Bloggs is dead, so clearly you are someone else. We will therefore find you guilty of both the crime the witnesses saw you commit and the crime of perjury for lying about your identity to the court."
    – IMSoP
    Commented Jan 17, 2021 at 22:22
  • I guess a particularly logical and cruel legal system would say "There's no need to have a trial before putting a corpse in prison. In fact, why don't we just bury you right now." Commented Jan 18, 2021 at 4:06

2 Answers 2


The same thing that happens to everyone else

Being declared legally dead does not mean that you are dead; it simply allows your assets to be distributed as if you were.

If you turn up alive, you go through a bureaucratic procedure to have the record of your death removed, get a new driver's licence, etc. You usually don't get your assets back. If you happen to commit a crime during this period you get arrested, charged and tried just like everybody else.

  • 14
    Suppose this happens in Ohio, where they have a 3-year limit on "reviving" the legally dead, and where the relevant statute says that "The death of such presumed decedent shall for all purposes under the law of this state be regarded as having occurred as of the date of such decree."
    – Ryan M
    Commented Jan 16, 2021 at 14:34
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    @RyanM I'd be curious to hear what eventually became of that case. I'd think the 14th Amendment would overrule the Ohio probate code, for example. Assuming he was a U.S. citizen, then "All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside" should still apply. As should the privileges and immunities clause and equal protection.
    – reirab
    Commented Jan 16, 2021 at 16:08
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    @reirab See nowiknow.com/the-dead-man-who-sued-to-make-himself-alive apparently Mr Miller was able to be considered alive by the SSA, which was what he really wanted. Commented Jan 16, 2021 at 18:43
  • 1
    @RyanM It would be a painfully long process, but eventually that limit will be overruled by overwhelming evidence of the contrary (the 'deceased' being alive and kicking').
    – Mast
    Commented Jan 17, 2021 at 7:11

You don't really need to "revive" that person. It's the same as if you had someone whose "real identity"¹ is unknown. I don't think they would have any problem to trial inmate #123 or the guy who claims to be Abraham Lincoln.

If instead of Abraham Lincoln (dead 1865), it's John Smith (dead Dec 2020) the one he claims to be, you would have the benefit of modern records of him (the crime scene shows the fingerprints, ADN, etc. of dead John Smith) but hey, here is another guy whose fingerprints also match those of the crime scene! So you could trial them.

It would seem preferably for them to be declared legally dead after being trialed for the crime (see e.g. Maggie Dickson), although in that case I still don't think it would be in their interest to be recognized as that same person.

¹ And what's a "real identity", anyway?

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