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Bill would ban photos of shipwrecks, other "human graves"

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Bill would ban photos of shipwrecks, other "human graves" 05/19/97 MICHIGAN--A bill designed to prevent the photographing of human remains,…

Bill would ban photos of shipwrecks, other “human graves”


MICHIGAN–A bill designed to prevent the photographing of human remains, particularly concerning shipwrecks, passed the state Senate in late April. It would amend the Michigan Penal Code to make it a felony to “knowingly photograph or publicly display a photograph of all or a portion of a decedent located in a human grave.”

A “human grave” is defined as “a site intended for the permanent interment of all or a portion of a dead person” or a location that contains “all or a portion of a person who died in an accident or disaster” from which it is impractical or not intended to remove the decedent or any portion of the body.

Although the law includes exemptions if written consent of the decedent’s next of kin is obtained or the photographs are used for law enforcement, medical or scientific purposes, there is no exclusion for newsworthy uses.

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Walter North (R-St. Ignace), said the bill was introduced in response to complaints by relatives of shipwreck victims following a 1994 Lake Superior diving expedition during which divers discovered and filmed the partially decomposed body of one of 29 missing crew members from a 1975 shipwreck.

According to the Senate Fiscal Agency bill analysis report, opponents of the bill were concerned that enforcement of the bill would infringe on the free speech and free press rights guaranteed by the First Amendment.

Opponents also argued that the bill contains vague and overly broad language. Although the bill enumerates shipwrecks, the bottom lands of the Great Lakes and mines as the possible locations of human graves, the language of the bill does not preclude prosecution for such things as a photographic exhibit of Holocaust victims discovered in concentration camp graves. The bill would also prohibit the recording and publishing of shipwreck observations for educational or historical purposes.

There are an estimated nine to ten thousand shipwrecks at the bottom of Michigan’s Great Lakes, according to the agency. (S.B. 305)