Life can be tough, especially when a judge says you’re dead in the eyes of the law.
That’s exactly what happened to Ohio resident Donald Eugene Miller Jr. on Monday when a judge upheld a 1994 court ruling declaring the 61-year-old legally dead.
The Courier reports that 19 years ago, a court in Hancock County declared Miller legally dead eight years after he disappeared from his rental home.
As a result, Miller has lost his Social Security number and his driver’s license.
Judge Allan Davis called it a "strange, strange situation," but he also said the court cannot budge in its decision.
"We've got the obvious here,” Davis said. “A man sitting in the courtroom, he appears to be in good health.”
Each state can make its own laws regarding declaring someone legally dead. Most generally rely on a similar set of criteria: that someone is missing and presumed dead if they can't be located for at least seven years, the absence has been continuous and a genuine effort has been made to locate the person.
Miller said he is a recovering alcoholic and abandoned his rental home while in the throes of his addiction. He said he returned to the court as part of an effort to get his life back together.
"It kind of went further than I ever expected it to," Miller told the court. "I just kind of took off, ended up in different places.”
Technically, Miller can petition to have his Social Security number reinstated in federal court, but his attorney, Francis Marley, told the Courier that Miller does not have the financial resources to pursue a second hearing.
"My client's here on a wing and a prayer today," Marley said.
His ex-wife, Robin Miller, asked for the initial death ruling so that Social Security death benefits could be paid to their two children. She reportedly declined to testify in court on Monday.
"I don't know where that leaves you, but you're still deceased as far as the law is concerned," Davis said.
Robin Miller says she opposed overturning the death ruling, because she would then have to pay back the federal government for the benefits she received and does not have the financial means to do so. Donald Eugene Miller reportedly owed her $26,000 in child support at the time of his “death.”
Despite Miller’s efforts to come clean with the court, Davis said there is a three-year legal limit for reversing a death ruling.
However, Miller said he wasn’t even aware of his legal “death” until his parents told him about it when he finally returned to Ohio in 2005.