A Guide to Death Scene Investigation: Completing the Scene Investigation

Once the investigator has documented information about the decedent's death, and the decedent's medical, social, and mental health, he or she should complete the investigation. He or she should follow these steps:

Maintain Jurisdiction over the Body

Principle: Maintaining jurisdiction over the body allows the investigator to protect the chain of custody as the body is transported from the scene for autopsy, specimen collection or storage.

Authorization: Medical Examiner/Coroner Official Office Policy Manual; State or Federal Statutory Authority.

Policy: The investigator shall maintain jurisdiction of the body by arranging for the body to be transported for autopsy, specimen collection or storage by secure conveyance.

Procedure: When maintaining jurisdiction over the body, the investigator should:

  1. Arrange for, and document, secure transportation of the body to a medical or autopsy facility for further examination or storage.
  2. Coordinate and document procedures to be performed when the body is received at the facility.

Summary: By providing documented secure transportation of the body from the scene to an authorized receiving facility, the investigator maintains jurisdiction and protects chain of custody of the body.

Release Jurisdiction of the Body

Principle: Prior to releasing jurisdiction of the body to an authorized receiving agent or funeral director, it is necessary to determine the person responsible for certification of the death. Information to complete the death certificate includes demographic information and the date, time and location of death.

Authorization: Medical Examiner/Coroner Official Office Policy Manual; State or Federal Statutory Authority.

Policy: The investigator shall obtain sufficient data to enable completion of the death certificate and release of jurisdiction over the body.

Procedure: When releasing jurisdiction over the body, the investigator should:

  1. Determine who will sign the death certificate (name, agency, etc.).
  2. Confirm the date, time and location of death.
  3. Collect, when appropriate, biological samples and other evidence prior to release of the body from the scene (indwelling or implanted devices).
  4. Document and arrange with the authorized receiving agent to reconcile all death certificate information.
  5. Release the body to an authorized funeral director or other authorized receiving agent.

Summary: The investigator releases jurisdiction only after determining who will sign the death certificate; documenting the date, time and location of death; collecting appropriate specimens; and releasing the body to the authorized funeral director or other authorized receiving agent.

Perform Exit Procedures

Principle: Completion of the scene investigation ensures that important evidence has been collected and the scene has been processed. In addition, a systematic review of the scene ensures that artifacts or equipment are not inadvertently left behind and any dangerous materials or conditions have been reported and documented.

Authorization: Medical Examiner/Coroner Official Office Policy Manual; State or Federal Statutory Authority.

Policy: At the conclusion of the scene investigation, the investigator shall conduct a post-investigative "walk through" and ensure the scene investigation is complete.

Procedure: When performing exit procedures, the investigator should:

  1. Identify, inventory and remove all evidence collected at the scene.
  2. Remove all personal equipment and materials from the scene.
  3. Report and document any dangerous materials or conditions.
  4. Alert family or interested and authorized individuals to potential unsafe scene conditions.

Summary: Conducting a scene "walk through" upon exit ensures that all evidence has been collected, that materials are not inadvertently left behind, and that any dangerous materials or conditions have been documented and reported to the proper entities.

Assist the Family or Authorized Individual(s)

Principle: The investigator provides the family or authorized individual(s) with a timetable so they can arrange for final disposition and provides information on available community and professional resources that may assist the family.

Authorization: Medical Examiner/Coroner Official Office Policy Manual; State or Federal Statutory Authority.

Policy: The investigator shall offer the decedent's family or authorized individual(s) information regarding available community and professional resources.

Procedure: When the investigator is assisting the family or authorized individual(s), it is important to:

  1. Inform them if an autopsy is required.
  2. Inform them of available support services (e.g., victim assistance, police, social services, death scene clean-up).
  3. Inform them of appropriate agencies to contact with questions (e.g., medical examiner/coroner offices, law enforcement, SIDS support group, etc.).
  4. Ensure that the family or authorized individual(s) is not left alone with body (if circumstances warrant).
  5. Inform them of the approximate body release timetable.
  6. Inform them of the information release timetable (e.g., toxicology, autopsy results, as required).
  7. Inform them of available reports, including cost, if any.
  8. Inform them that they might be contacted regarding organ and tissue donation.
  9. Inform them that they may receive inquires from the media (this will be case dependent).

Summary: Interaction with the family or authorized individual(s) allows the investigator to assist and direct them to appropriate resources. It is essential that families or authorized individuals be given a timetable of events so that they can make necessary arrangements. In addition, the investigator needs to communicate what information will be available and an approximate timeline for its release.

Date Created: June 15, 2009