Can You Exhume a Body to Get a Magical Amulet?

Stan Against Evil is a wacky fun horror comedy from the brilliant Dana Gould. John C. McGinley and Janet Varney star as the former and current sheriffs of a small New Hampshire town that burned 172 witches at the stake. Stan’s late wife hunted demons plaguing the town, keeping Stan from an early demise as sheriff.

Stan realized he had to exhume his wife’s body, because his daughter buried his wife with an amulet needed to read a book of spells to combat the demons. The legal issue, was Stan legally justified digging up his wife?

New Hampshire case law states:

In this jurisdiction it has been held that while a dead body “is not property in the ordinary sense of the term, it is regarded as property so far as to entitle the relatives to legal protection from unnecessary disturbance and wanton violation or invasion of its place of burial. The plaintiff, notwithstanding he is neither the owner of the soil of the cemetery nor of the remains of his deceased relatives interred there, may nevertheless be authorized to invoke protection against unnecessary desecration of their place of burial.”

Lavigne v. Wilkinson (1921) 80 N.H. 221, 222, citing Page v. Symonds, 63 N.H. 17, 20.

The law favors the “quiet of the grave.” There must be “good and substantial reasons” for the disinterment of a body. Kusky v. Laderbush (1950) 96 N.H. 286, 287, citing Currier v. Woodlawn Cemetery, 300 N.Y. 162.

Prior case law has held that “the right to have a dead body remain unmolested is not an absolute one; it must yield where it conflicts with the public good or where the demands of justice require such subordination.” Kusky, at 287, citing Silvia v. Helger, 67 A.2d at 28. This normally would mean determining the cause of death.

Stan could argue that retrieving the amulet was a “good and substantial” reason for exhuming his wife, because without the amulet, it was not possible to stop the demons threatening the town. As the undead witches in league with the devil is a public danger, Stan had a colorable argument for the disinterment his wife’s body (at least in 1692).

21st Century case law does not speak to exhuming bodies for magical artifacts. A court would have to accept there was a supernatural threat in order to find “good and substantial” cause to permit the exhuming Stan’s wife.

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