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Frequently Asked Questions
   
   


What is a Medical Examiner? [Top]

The Medical Examiner is a physician trained in forensic pathology and is appointed by the Governor, to investigate violent, suspicious or unnatural deaths. The Medical Examiner has a duty to determine objectively the cause and manner of death in such cases and is assisted by medical examiner investigators and law enforcement personnel.

The Medical Examiner is independent of every law enforcement agency, hospital, or local government and provides forensic services under annual contracts with Pinellas and Pasco Counties.

Why is an Investigation Necessary? [Top]

In the case of unexpected or violent (non-natural) death, an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the death is legally required to determine the cause and manner of death and establish the identity of the deceased before a Medical Examiner can sign the death certificate.

The Medical Examiner can often discover hidden evidence of injury to explain a sudden death or can document natural diseases to show that no foul play was involved in the death.

Government and private agencies, as well as, families rely on the medical examiner findings to resolve questioned issues regarding deaths.

What Happens During an Investigation? [Top]

The Medical Examiner is responsible for the body of the deceased. It may not be touched or moved, except for lifesaving efforts, without permission. Medical Examiner investigators typically respond to every non-natural death scene before the body is removed from the scene.

What is an Autopsy? [Top]

An autopsy is an intricate medical procedure often requiring complex laboratory tests. It includes removal and inspection of all major organ systems for the purpose of documenting injury, disease or the lack thereof. An autopsy typically does not interfere with the final viewing and funeral of the deceased. Funeral directors prepare a body after autopsy according to the wishes of the family.

When is an Autopsy Necessary? [Top]

A complete autopsy is most often performed in traumatic or violent deaths (gunshot, stab, electrocution, burn, poison, fall, drowning, starvation, suffocation, strangulation, etc.), any police custody death, suspected suicide or drug overdose and in most cases of child death. Investigation or autopsy is necessary in all traumatic deaths regardless of the duration of survival or hospitalization of the injured person if no complete recovery was made after the injury .

An autopsy is not normally performed when the death appears to be from natural causes, adequate medical history exists, and there are no indications of foul play. The Medical Examiner often receives such cases only because the attending physician is not in Florida and cannot sign a Florida death certificate or the person has never been to a physician.

Why is an Autopsy Performed? [Top]

An autopsy is performed to determine the cause of death and the extent and nature of injuries or natural disease processes that caused death.

Permission for Autopsy? [Top]

By state law, The Medical Examiner is not required to receive permission from next-of-kin for an autopsy. Religious objections to autopsy are handled with counseling on a case by case basis when the rights of the deceased might be compromised by not performing the autopsy.

Permission for Organ Donation? [Top]

Only the legal next-of-kin may grant permission for organ or tissue donation. This permission is requested by the organ procurement agency before the Medical Examiner has accepted jurisdiction and determined that donation may proceed without compromising the duties of the Medical Examiner. In possible child abuse deaths and certain homicide cases Medical Examiner objection may be invoked to protect evidence.

When is the Body Released for Burial? [Top]

Every effort is made to complete an investigation rapidly and efficiently so that the family can proceed with final arrangements. Most cases are released the same day or the day after the body is received. Homicide cases and those requiring identification may be delayed until all questions have been answered.

What Happens to the Property? [Top]

Personal effects are normally removed at the place of death and turned over to family or the law enforcement agency and not brought into the Medical Examiner's Office. If personal effects are transported with the body, they are inventoried and released with the body to the funeral home for return to the family except in homicide cases where the effects may be evidence and are turned over to law enforcement.

Geographic Jurisdiction  [Top]

The place where the dead body is found or is brought ashore determines the geographic jurisdiction. District Six covers only Pinellas and Pasco Counties.

Legal Jurisdiction F.S. 406. 11 [Top]

Death must be investigated by the Medical Examiner whenever a person dies:

1. of criminal violence
2. by accident
3. by suicide
4. suddenly, when in apparent good health,
5. unattended by a practicing physician,
6. in any prison or penal institution
7. in police custody
8. in any suspicious or unusual circumstance
9. by criminal abortion
10. by poison
11. by disease constituting a threat to public health
12. by disease, injury, or toxic agent resulting from employment.

Note that there is no "24 hour rule" in Florida. The mere fact that a person died within a brief time of admission to a hospital does NOT automatically make it a Medical Examiner case. Nor does Florida law mandate that these deaths be reported to the Medical Examiner.

Why do Some Results Take 30-60 Days?  [Top]

The determination of cause and manner of death often involves more than just the physical procedures on the body. It also involves laboratory testing for drugs or microscopic examination of tissues. In some cases additional tests are required after the first results are received. In certain cases, reports are finalized when test results are available to reach a reasonable medical certainty about the cause and manner of death.

How do I obtain an autopsy report? [Top]

All Medical Examiner autopsy reports are automatically sent to the State Attorney's Office{406.13.F.S.} and the investigating law enforcement agency upon completion. Medical Examiner case files are public record, 119.011(1)F.S. Any person may obtain a copy.

Copies of autopsy reports are provided free to immediate next of kin (spouse, child,parent, sibling, grandparent, grandchildren, aunts, uncles, cousins). You may request an autopsy report by e-mail using our Autopsy Request Submission Form; by written request or by calling (727) 582-6800.

The written request must include the following:

1) The name of the decedent

2) The date of death.

When requesting by mail please include a self-addressed business envelope with postage for 2 ounces, due to the number of pages.

Send your written request and your stamped, self addressed envelope to:

The Office of the Medical Examiner
Attn: Records Custodian
10900 Ulmerton Road
Largo, FL 33778

Requests for records other than the autopsy report are charged at the authorized duplication cost of .15 per single sided page and .20 for two-sided pages {119.07 (1)(a)F.S.}

If the public record request requires extensive computer or clerical resources, a special service charge will be imposed 119.07(1)(b), in addition to duplication costs. Exact postage cost will also be included.

Some case files may become exempt from public record release while under"active criminal intelligence or active criminal investigation"{119.07 (3)(b)}. Once this designation has been lifted, the record(s) will be available.

Is there a charge to Families? [Top]

There is no charge to immediate next of kin for a medical examiner autopsy report.