Tale as Old as Crime: Maurice’s False Imprisonment

While Beauty and the Beast is a tale as old as time, the fact Beast may have violated some historically recognized criminal law. Most jurisdictions recognize claims for false arrest, also referred to as false imprisonment. For those familiar with the 1991 Disney animated film, Beast goes through a journey of self-discovery that ends with him becoming a much better person at the end. This change in character doesn’t absolve him of his earlier crimes though.

As you will recall, when Maurice, Belle’s father, was traversing the forest he fled to the safety of Beast’s castle to escape the wolves chasing him. Although he alerted the residents to his presence, Beast chose not to reveal himself at first. Lumiere, Mrs. Potts, and Chip, against the advice of Cogsworth, proceed to provide Maurice with shelter and tea. It is at this point that Maurice comes face to face with Beast. Promptly afterward he is thrown into a dungeon with as much thought as Lumiere put into dating a presumably flammable feather duster.

Falsely Imprisoning Maurice

By detaining Maurice, Beast may be guilty of what Connecticut calls false imprisonment. False imprisonment is the unlawful restraint by one person of the physical liberty of another. Felix v. Hall-Brooke Sanitarium, 140 Conn. 496, 499, 101 A.2d 500 (1953). To prove a claim of false imprisonment, the Plaintiff must be able to show, (1) that his or her physical liberty has been restrained by the defendant, and (2) that the restraint was against his or her will. Lo Sacco v. Young, 20 Conn. App. 6, 19 (1989).

As to the first point, it shouldn’t be too hard for Maurice to show that his physical liberty was restrained. A quick look to his predicament after entering the castle shows him confined behind bars in one of the castle’s holding cells (which should call into question how often this was occurring). As to the second point, whether or not this was against his will, this is evidenced in the conversation Belle had with Beast to release her father. Belle asks Beast to release him, and Beast promptly accuses Maurice of trespassing. Beast then refers to Maurice as his prisoner. It’s apparent at this point that Maurice was being held against his will.

Potential Claims Against Maurice

However, Beast may have a point in calling out Maurice for his trespass. Since Maurice clearly went past a gate which was designed to exclude intruders, and he remained in the castle without being licensed or privileged to do so, he may be liable for trespass. Connecticut General Statutes 53a – 107 to 109. However Connecticut General Statutes 53a-110 provides for affirmative defenses to criminal trespass, which include that “the actor reasonably believed that the owner of the premises, or a person empowered to license access thereto, would have licensed him to enter or remain.” The tricky issue here is whether or not Lumiere, or anyone in the castle could have given Maurice license to be in the castle. Even more of an issue is that, at that point per the power of the witch, no one in the castle was actually a “person” so Maurice’s defense may fall flat.

Beast could also claim that Maurice is guilty of violating statutes for home invasion or burglary. This would seem apropos as both would involve Maurice entering, or remaining unlawfully in a dwelling, with the intent to commit a crime therein; burglary would have the added element of Maurice coming under the cover of night. See Connecticut General Statutes 53a-100aa; see also Connecticut General Statutes 53a – 101. The entering element would certainly be satisfied, as would the “at night” element. However, Maurice would have to have intended to commit a crime. He would likely not be found to have the proper mens rea for this, as he himself thought he was being properly invited in by the staff of the castle. Without establishing the requisite intent to commit a crime, Maurice would not succumb to these claims.

A Defense of Citizen’s Arrest

Even if Maurice were found guilty of criminal trespass, this does not mitigate charges against Beast for false imprisonment. Beast may think that he was somehow able to perform a citizen’s arrest for Maurice’s wrongdoing, but he would be mistaken. The law for a citizen’s arrest is clear under Connecticut General Statutes 53a-22. Pursuant to the statute a private citizen may use reasonable force in arresting an individual whom he reasonably believes has committed an offense. State v. Smith, 63 Conn. App. 228, 238 (2001). Here Maurice would have committed an offense, however the statute also requires that the offense constitute a felony. Under Connecticut law though, all forms of trespass are misdemeanors; thus, even if Maurice committed trespass against Beast, Beast would still not be justified in detaining Maurice.


As a result, Beast would be susceptible to Maurice making a claim of false imprisonment. False imprisonment is an intentional tort, the remedy for which is an action for trespass. Green v. Donroe, 186 Conn. 265, 268 (1982). Ultimately, Maurice may be able to claim trespass against Beast, as a remedy for his false imprisonment, despite the fact that Maurice himself may be guilty of trespass.  The fact that Maurice was later released does not extinguish the liability Beast would have for any term of imprisonment. Sure Belle and Beast may live happily ever after, but that won’t necessarily stop Maurice from taking Beast to court. In the grand scheme of things, having to pay out a settlement or even a jury verdict because of how you treat the people that come to your door for help is probably a lot easier to stomach than some quasi-botanical curse.

Star Trek Panel at Silicon Valley Comic Con

We had an amazing time at our first Silicon Valley Comic Con. Thank you to everyone who filled our seminar room on Sunday morning. We were thrilled Rod Roddenberry even saw our discussion on Space Seed. Below please find the slides from our panel and the live recording of our presentation. Thank you Silicon Valley Comic Con for a great show; we hope to return in 2018.


What Countries Can X-23 Claim Citizenship?

Logan is an excellent X-Men movie. One basic human question in the film is the legal status of the “new mutants” that were born in Mexico. The multi-national company Transigen genetically engineered these children. The children were conceived from the DNA of other mutants and born to mothers of Mexican women. Just what is their citizenship?

Laura, aka X-23, had a Mexican mother and her father genetically was James “Logan” Howlett, who was born in Canada in 1832. While she might have been conceived through genetic engineering, there is no doubt her father’s DNA was Logan.

Laura can claim citizenship in Mexico, because she was born in Mexico City, pursuant to the 30th article of the Constitution of Mexico. However, Laura’s options do not end there.

The Canadian Citizenship Act allows for citizenship by descent to the first generation of a Canadian parent born abroad, pursuant to paragraph 3(1)(b). Logan technically is a Canadian citizen by birth (arguably the oldest one at 197 years old by the time of Logan). As such, Laura has a colorable claim to being a Canadian citizen due to her father.

There is also the possibility Laura could be a US Citizen. Logan served in the US military in the Civil War, World War I, World War II, and Vietnam (it is unclear if Logan also fought in the Spanish-American War or the Korean Conflict). Logan would have qualified for US Citizenship because of his military service dating back to at least World War I.

Logan could have been a naturalized citizen if (1) at the time of enlistment, reenlistment, extension of enlistment, or induction such person shall have been in the United States, the Canal Zone, American Samoa, or Swains Island, or on board a public vessel owned or operated by the United States for noncommercial service, whether or not he has been lawfully admitted to the United States for permanent residence, or (2) at any time subsequent to enlistment or induction such person shall have been lawfully admitted to the United States for permanent residence. 8 U.S.C.S. § 1440.

If Logan was a naturalized US Citizen, Laura could claim she is a “natural born” US Citizen, because her father was a naturalized citizen from his military service spanning 1861 to 1970.

Transigen argued that the “new mutants” were patents and copyrights, thus property, and ignoring their humanity. The United States fought a war over the belief that people could be property, which is effectively Transigen’s position. The 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution specifically prohibits slavery and involuntary servitude. Slavery was abolished in Mexico in 1824 and Canada in 1833 by British Parliament across the entire United Kingdom. As such, no country in North America would recognize human children being “property” as patents and copyrights.

Laura has colorable claims to have dual citizenship with Mexico and either the United States or Canada. Logan did fight in over 90 years of wars for the United States and was eligible for citizenship, but it is not clear if he ever because an US Citizen. As such, the most likely scenario is Laura having dual citizenship with Mexico and Canada.

Data: The Measure of A Property Challenge

In the Star Trek The Next Generation episode “The Measure of A Man,” Data is put on trial about whether he is a sentient being. Picard’s defense is among the best legal arguments in the history of science fiction. No one would question the excitement of the argument for Data’s sentience for other legal strategies, right? No one but lawyers that is, lawyers tend to get excited about legal nuances.

A Matter of Jurisdiction

First, let’s focus on the fact that Starfleet is a military organization. Military courts do not have general jurisdiction, but limited jurisdiction. In the US, Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution establishes the power to create a military code and the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) codifies that section. The UCMJ § 803 grants jurisdiction over “a person who is in a status in which the person is subject to this chapter and who committed an offense against this chapter.” The most important word here is “person,” it is about people who are or have been in the service or the reserve. Under Article 139 (10 U.S.C. § 939)  property-related claims can be brought to the court, but then both parties must be subject to the military code. That is a general tenant of military justice: it applies to military personnel. Commander Maddox contention that “Data is a machine” actually challenges the very jurisdiction of the military court. The case should be a matter for a civil court, and the other party is overlooked in the proceedings.

A Matter of Property

Maddox contents that Data is “the property of Starfleet,” but is he?

Dr. Noonian Soong, a private citizen, built Data with his own funding. It follows that Data is the property first and foremost of Dr. Soong. Even if Dr. Soong is presumed dead, ownership of Data would be part of his estate. The Fifth Amendment will protect the Soong’ claim to Data against governmental or military appropriation without due process. In Star Trek, we never heard about an equivalent of condemnation proceedings regarding Data to use the power of eminent domain. Nor is Data abandoned. Data’s career in Starfleet clearly shows that he is a machine that can maintain itself without its creator’s supervision. Leaving Data to function autonomously on a planet is not an intent to relinquishing property claims but an intent to let Data function as designed. We learn in an episode about two years later (Brothers, Season 4, Episode 3) that Dr. Soong was still alive at the time of the proceedings and had the ability to recall Data to him at any time. Dr. Soong was still the owner of Data during the proceeding and has not in fact intended to relinquished all property claims as the recall mechanism shows. The least we should do is to try and find the other party before we simply assume him dead or assume abandonment.

Starfleet’s one and only claim of ownership over Data is based on Data’s decision to join Starfleet and become an officer. Starfleet cannot have it both ways: they cannot argue that Data is under Starfleet’s control and jurisdiction because he is a sentient Starfleet officer and that Starfleet can dismantle Data as he is not a sentient being.  Either Data is a sentient being and can, therefore, leave Starfleet, or he is the property of a private citizen and cannot be expropriated without due process.

Starfleet’s goal to dismantle Data could very well be construed as property crime from theft to vandalism. Picard seems duty-bound to fulfill the superior order. That is similar to the UCMJ Article 92 that criminalizes the disobedience any lawful order. However as the Court of Military Appeals held in United States v. Keenan:  “the justification for acts done pursuant to orders does not exist if the order was of such a nature that a man of ordinary sense and understanding would know it to be illegal.” Picard may very well refuse to hand over Data based on the unlawfulness of the order to expropriate private property without due process.

A License to Command

Our argument, however, establishes an uneasy truth. Starfleet might have stolen Data and used a machine without the consent of its creator which could make them liable for gold-pressed damages. Our client Data would like to continue to serve in Starfleet. Can we both claim that Data is a machine, but he could still have autonomy in contracting with Starfleet his services?

In today’s High-Frequency Trading (HFT), algorithms of traders are already buying and selling stocks. Buying and selling stocks are property transfers. Although the traders have created the programs and therefore expressed a general will to contract, there’s no individual intent for each property transfer.  In 2010 Flash Crash was a trillion dollar stock market caused in part by HFT. No trader claimed that they are not liable for the trades of their programs. The creators of the programs felt legally bound by the contracts formed by their programs. I  propose a theory of attribution here. The acts of computer programs are attributed to the legal or natural personality that created the program as the programming itself is a representation of their will.

Even if Data is considered a machine and has no natural personality, he may have the ability to form contracts as those contracts are attributed to Dr. Soong. Data’s act of joining Starfleet can be construed as an implied or expressed license to use him. However, under which terms? Both Dr. Soong and Data conceive Data as a sentient being. Starfleet trained him like any other officer. He receives medals as if he were an officer in the fleet. If joining Starfleet is the basis for the license then the obligations and rights of Starfleet against its officers must be its terms. Starfleet has a license to command but not destroy Data.

I believe that Data is a sentient being and as such a Starfleet officer. However, even if Starfleet maintains that Data is a machine, Starfleet has only a license to use him as if he were an officer of Starfleet. An officer cannot be ordered to undergo a medical proceeding that may kill him. Whether or not Data is sentient, Starfleet must treat him as a man, and therefore he has a right to refuse the proceedings.

“The Measure of a Man” is a brilliant episode and it questioned the rights of AIs and that almost 20 years ago. However, Picard’s defense was not the safest path to victory ignoring the inherent flaws in Maddox argument. Nevertheless the episode is more relevant than ever. We are in the age of emerging AI and how we treat them will define our humanity. If others consider AIs as property, let us make sure that property law will protect their sentient rights rather than enslaving them. As Guinan pointed out to Picard:

“Consider that in the history of many worlds, there have always been disposable creatures. They do the dirty work. They do the work that no one else wants to do because it’s too difficult or too hazardous. And an army of Datas, all disposable… You don’t have to think about their welfare, you don’t think about how they feel. Whole generations of disposable people.”

It is our legal challenge to prove to Guinan that we are better than that.

Rogue One: The Jedha Ambush & The Law

The Empire’s vile use of the Death Star, enslavement of entire worlds, and wrinkly psychopathic ruler generally don’t make for good examples when it comes to abiding by the law of war. Nevertheless, just like a broken clock, the Empire occasionally gets things right when it fights. The Jedha City ambush scene from Rogue One is one of those instances where the Empire doesn’t royally screw things up from a legal perspective. With Rogue One’s release on Blu-Ray and DVD today, it’s a perfect time to break down one of the best scenes in the movie and take away some lessons about how the law of armed conflict impacts military operations.

Even if you haven’t watched Rogue One in a while (if that’s the case, you should immediately cease reading this article and go rectify that travesty), you probably remember the scene we’re talking about. Cassian Andor and Jyn Erso are on Jedha in search of an Imperial cargo pilot who has defected with possible information about the Empire’s new top-secret super weapon, the Death Star. They soon find themselves caught in the middle of a major firefight, as Saw Gerrera’s insurgent forces ambush an Imperial patrol. Heavy fighting and general on-screen awesomeness then ensues.

Anakin would have to wait to have his fun until later in the movie when a bunch of Rebel troopers got to see a real lightsaber up close and personal.


Gather ’round and let the sweet sounds of Imperial propaganda fill your ears.

The Jedha ambush scene begins with a pretty routine Imperial operation. A squad of stormtroopers escorts an Imperial “occupier” assault tank, which is transporting a number of kyber crystals. Of course, the Imperials do so with typical flare, using a loud-speaker to broadcast a message touting the moral high ground the Empire supposedly occupied. There is nothing unlawful about the Imperials’ use of the loudspeaker.

Psychological operations, which are commonly known by the shorthand “PSYOPS,” can be legal in various forms. PSYOPS have been around in one form or another for nearly the entire history of warfare, ranging from leaflets to loudspeaker messages and beyond. They are often a highly effective non-lethal way to affect enemy morale or sway civilian attitudes. For example, U.S. forces dropped over 29 million leaflets to Iraqi forces during the first Gulf War in the early 1990s. The leaflets portrayed the futility of resistance, the inevitability of their defeat, and placed blame on Saddam Hussein. After the war, 88% of Iraqi forces said they believed the messages and roughly 70% said the leaflets affected their decision to surrender. Thus, if the Imperials had Judge Advocates within their ranks, they would have raised no issue about using a loudspeaker to broadcast PSYOPS messages to the denizens of Jedha.

The most dangerous version of “I Spy.”

As the convoy enters a small plaza, the ambush is already in motion, unbeknownst to the patrol. Saw Gerrera’s insurgents employ spotting techniques from several vantage points, observing and communicating information about the patrol.

Their actions constitute what is known as “hostile intent.” Hostile intent is the threat of imminent use of force against friendly forces. Although Gerrera’s men were disguised as civilians, their spotting effectively reveals their status as combatants, making them lawful targets. Spotting is considered a demonstration of hostile intent because of its purpose: to gather information about the enemy and facilitate attacks. It is a tactic often used by fighters to gather intelligence on enemy forces. Spotting is also commonly used in ambushes, where a spotter will relay information designed to precisely time the attack. The act of spotting is therefore a precursor to the use of force.

That is exactly what Saw’s forces are doing in this scene as they rapidly relay information to coordinate multiple prongs of their ambush. Therefore, the Imperials would not have to wait to be fired upon before attacking. Had they realized what was happening, they could have lawfully fired on the spotters even before the insurgents attacked.

The Ambush Begins

TK-255 and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

Saw’s forces trigger the ambush with a grenade that is meant to surprise and confuse the Imperial patrol. The misdirection works, causing the stormtroopers to be preoccupied with locating the grenade’s source. Saw’s men seize the advantage, opening fire from all directions.

The insurgents’ deceptive tactic initially works well, as they inflict many casualties before the stormtroopers and tank can react. At this point, Saw’s men were committing hostile acts—attacks or other uses of force against friendly forces. The insurgents’ hostile acts make them lawful targets.

The patrol is within its legal right to fight back against the insurgents. Commanders retain the inherent right and obligation to exercise self-defense of their units in response to hostile acts. This also means that individual unit members retain the right to defend themselves and other members of the unit. Here, that means that each stormtrooper can use deadly force to defend themselves and other members of the unit. The Imperials in the patrol do just that, returning fire with blasters and the tank.

However, self-defense does not give soldiers a blank check to use unlimited force. Even in chaotic circumstances, the core principles of the law of armed conflict remain in effect. That includes the requirement to distinguish between civilians and military targets. To their credit, the Imperials maintain their discipline by focusing fire on the insurgents. While civilians are caught in the fray, Imperial troops distinguish their targets by returning fire on insurgent positions and not firing wildly all over the plaza.

Someone isn’t getting their security deposit back…

Additionally, the law of armed conflict requires military units to use proportional force in self-defense. That means the nature, duration, and scope of the force should be no more than is necessary to decisively counter the hostile act. This concept does not mean that the stormtroopers on Jedha could only return fire with blasters and grenades. The use of the tank to level the tower was lawful because of how the tower was being used. The patrol was taking heavy fire from insurgents in the tower, which provided excellent cover and concealment for Gerrera’s forces. The Imperials were therefore within their legal authority to fire on the tower with the tank, thereby quickly ending the insurgents’ strategic advantage.

Reinforcements Arrive

If only Saw Gerrera had recruited a few ewoks to fight on Jedha…

As the fighting raged on, the Imperials were eventually reinforced with more troops and an AT-ST. In the real world, the U.S. military coordinates combat operations on different levels. Tactical Operations Centers (TOCs) and Joint Operations Centers (JOCs) are used to ease that sort of coordination. Generally, TOCs and JOCs are the place where a commander plans, monitors, and directs tactical operations. TOCs and JOCs range from a group of connected tents to larger rooms that resemble a NASA mission control center.

TOCs and JOCs also play a key role in overseeing combat operations. For example, the JOC might display a live video feed from a drone that is providing surveillance for a convoy below. If that convoy gets attacked, the JOC will likely coordinate or direct close air support from nearby fighter jets. Judge Advocates are usually in TOCs and JOCs, advising commanders on the law of war every step of the way.

We see the effects of that sort of battlefield coordination on Jedha. As the ambush unfolded, the Imperial patrol would radio up to the TOC or JOC, which was likely housed inside the Star Destroyer looming over the city. The patrol would have reported “troops in contact,” or TIC. Declaring a TIC, as the practice is known, is an alert that friendly forces are engaged in combat. A TIC often triggers the rapid coordination of reinforcements and combat assets, such as close air support.

The concept of unit defense comes into play in situations like this one. Unit self-defense allows friendly forces to come to the defense of another unit. In the real world, that might occur when Apache attack helicopters provide air cover for a pinned down group of infantry. Here, Imperial forces lawfully called in support from an AT-ST and more troops to defend the patrol. Some of the stormtroopers from the original patrol were likely in need of medical evacuation and there were still other troops at risk in the immediate vicinity. The reinforcements ultimately had the desired effect, scattering Gerrera’s forces and allowing the Imperials to regroup.


Contrary to their general dastardly reputation, the Imperials actually managed to play by the rules during the Jedha ambush. Imperial haters should have no fear, as it wasn’t too long before Director Krennic and Governor Tarkin made sure everyone on Jedha knew what a real war crime looked like by obliterating Jedha City with the Death Star.

Can the Hand be Prosecuted for Distributing Synthetic Heroin?

Marvel’s Iron Fist episode “Under Leaf Pluck Lotus,” included the Hand using Rand Enterprises as a front to sell synthetic heroin. The over-the-top sexy women pushing the drugs claimed to prospective dealers that the drug was “legal,” because it was synthetic. Better yet for the dealers, the human body would not develop a resistance to it.

Federal Courts, Congress, and the DEA would take issue with the Hand’s position that a synthetic drug with all of the effects of a Schedule I drug is somehow legal. The Bad Guys don’t get to make the call on what is legal and illegal.

The United States has a long history of battling heroin. Congress first banned the importation of crude opium for manufacturing heroin in 1909 and again in 1924. 68 P.L. 274.

Heroin is a Schedule I drug, which means: (A) The drug or other substance has a high potential for abuse; (B) The drug or other substance has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States; and (C) There is a lack of accepted safety for use of the drug or other substance under medical supervision. 21 U.S.C.S. § 812.

The factors applied by the Attorney General in determining whether to add or remove a drug from the schedules include:

(1) Its actual or relative potential for abuse.

(2) Scientific evidence of its pharmacological effect, if known.

(3) The state of current scientific knowledge regarding the drug or other substance.

(4) Its history and current pattern of abuse.

(5) The scope, duration, and significance of abuse.

(6) What, if any, risk there is to the public health.

(7) Its psychic or physiological dependence liability.

(8) Whether the substance is an immediate precursor of a substance already controlled under this title.

21 U.S.C.S. § 811.

Federal law also states it is unlawful for anyone to 1) “to manufacture, distribute, or dispense, or possess with intent to manufacture, distribute, or dispense, a controlled substance;” or 2) “to create, distribute, or dispense, or possess with intent to distribute or dispense, a counterfeit substance.” 21 U.S.C.S. § 841.

There is no way around the fact the Courts would treat synthetic heroin like heroin. First, the Attorney General would classify it as a Schedule I drug because of its high potential for abuse, the lack of any medically accepted use for treatment, and the lack of any accepted safety for the use of the drug. The affects of the drug are the same as heroin, regardless of whether any crude opium is used.

New York Courts would also have no trouble prosecuting anyone selling the Hand’s synthetic heroin. Pursuant to New York Public Health Law § 3383, it is “unlawful for any person to manufacture, sell or possess with the intent to sell, an imitation controlled substance.” The synthetic heroin is an “imitation controlled substance.” New York’s finest [in the Marvel Cinematic Universe] would have legal authority to conduct drug busts and prosecute those selling the synthetic heroin.

No matter how much the Hand chases the dragon that the lack of crude opium somehow makes the drug legal, the synthetic heroin is technically a counterfeit drug under the law. Federal and State law enforcement would be upholding the law with massive raids to break the Hand’s synthetic heroin ring.

#TBT: Buffy is back (from the dead)!

I’ve been listening to the songs from Once More with Feeling a lot lately. [I’m glad La La Land helped spread some new love for musicals in Hollywood but it doesn’t hold a candle to the greatness that is Buffy’s musical episode.] And then I learned that it was twenty years ago this month that Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the TV show, began. So the signs were clear: it was time for me to write a post about my favorite geek TV show of all time.

I missed the beginning of the Buffy phenomenon, turned off both by the name (a problem I had with Jane the Virgin and My Crazy Ex-Girlfriend too, shows I’m now obsessed with) and the movie. I only caught on to the Buffy phenomenon a few years later, when I was in law school and FX started broadcasting reruns back to back. Back then–pre-DVRs, Hulu, and Netflix–reruns were the only way to catch up on a show you had otherwise missed. Once I caught up on the old ones I started watching the new episodes. And if I missed one of the new episodes, I had to go to Television Without Pity to find out what I missed. [Wow, how did we ever manage before all of these awesome new technologies that let us watch our shows whenever and wherever we want?]

Season five ended with one of the most amazing cliffhangers ever (spoiler alert!): Buffy realizes what her gift is and sacrifices herself to save her sister and the world. It was also the 100th episode of the show and the last episode on the WB so the wait to see what happened the next year on the UPN was excruciating.

Season six was criticized by many for being too dark, but I loved it. And the fact that Buffy’s death and resurrection brought us one of the most amazing Hollywood musicals ever only proves how amazing that season was. [I was just temporarily distracted by a review of the season six and it reminded me of how much I loved that season and its finale as well—Big Bad Willow was awesome! I’m also pleasantly surprised at what a true superstar Jonathon became. I loved Danny Strong’s acting on both Buffy and Gilmore Girls but I guess he’s even stronger as a writer!]

Season six was obviously about the entire Scooby Gang dealing with the ramifications of bringing Buffy back from the dead. Bringing her back was an impressive act of witchcraft by Willow, but as a legal geek, I was more interested in the logistics: What kind of paperwork does that involve?

The answer: A lot. It’s a painful process without a guaranteed solution so try to avoid this situation if at all possible (a good rule for hellmouths as well).

The usual reason a non-dead person has to deal with coming back from the dead is because their “death” was the result of a typographical error or they were declared dead in absentia. Buffy, of course, doesn’t fall into either of these categories–she actually came back from the dead and had to bust out of her own gravesite. Can’t blame her for falling into a destructive relationship with Spike after that trauma.

So what happens when you die?

“For three days after death, hair and fingernails continue to grow,
but phone calls taper off.” 
-Johnny Carson

More importantly, you get entered in the Social Security Administration’s Death Master File. Creepy as it sounds, that’s where the Social Security Administration has been keeping track of the Social Security numbers of everyone who’s died since 1980. Unfortunately, those numbers are still entered into the file by humans and sometimes errors occur, leading to people who are very much alive and well being told they are, in fact, dead.

And if your Social Security number comes up as “dead,” then you’re going to be treated like a zombie: no tax filings or refunds, no new driver’s license, rejections of any application where you’re required to provide a Social Security number. For some, it’s a brutal, years-long process that leaves them impoverished and depressed.

In addition, there can be other legal ramifications for being declared dead, especially if you were declared dead by a court in absentia. That means your estate has been disbursed, life insurance benefits paid, and Social Security disbursements made to dependents. California Probate Code Section 12408 addresses this in a section entitled “Reappearance of missing person; recovery of property; limitations of actions; order for final distribution conclusive as to parties; disputed identity of reappearing missing person.” Under that section, if you reappear you can recover assets (minus fees and costs) that are still in the possession of your estate’s personal representative. §12408(a)(1). You might be able to recover assets that have already been given to your beneficiaries, if that recovery is deemed “equitable in view of all of the circumstances.” §12408(a)(2). And if you reappear more than five years after your assets have been distributed, you’re out of luck. Id.

That’s not as bad as what happened to Donald Miller in Ohio. Declared dead by a court at the request of his ex-wife (he wasn’t paying his child support and couldn’t be found), he showed up years later and tried to be officially declared alive again. The court refused, however, explaining that under Ohio law he could only challenge a finding of death within three years of the order being entered. Miller had waited longer than that so the court told him he had to stay dead!

Presumably, the Scooby Gang was too busy fighting monsters in Sunnydale to notify the Social Security Administration about Buffy’s death – or distribute her meager assets. So all Buffy had to deal with was settling back into her old life, going through the motions as best she could:

Ah, Buffy and the Scooby Gang. It wasn’t a perfect show but it was a great show and many of its alum have gone on to make other great TV shows and movies. But there will never be another Buffy–she can only come back from the dead so many times! Next time, I’ll have to figure out what happens when a vampire regains his soul. Is there anyone tracking that?