March 28, 2006
Civil or Criminal, or Both?
The AP is reporting a macabre story: Robert
Winston, an ex-funeral director from
Winston is now charged with the crimes of “abuse of a corpse” and “theft by deception.” His attorney’s response:
“This is a breach of contract, if anything.”
Is this really a compelling defense strategy? Winston’s actions can certainly be both; that is, both criminally improper and a breach of contract. Certainly, the hospital did not receive the benefit of its bargain with Winston. But contract law does not preclude societal punishment of Winston for his outrageous (in)actions -- this is more appropriately tasked to the criminal system. Thus, it seems a weak defense strategy to point to contract law as a scapegoat – it is not an either/or situation.
[Meredith R. Miller]
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