Death investigations have broad societal implications for criminal justice and public health. Death investigations provide evidence to convict the guilty and protect the innocent, whether they are accused of murder, child abuse, neglect or other crimes. Death investigations support civil litigation, such as malpractice, bodily injury or life insurance claims. Screening for deaths is essential to many aspects of public health practice and research, including surveillance, epidemiology and prevention programs, most commonly in injury prevention and control, but also in the prevention of suicide, violence or substance abuse. And death investigations are proving essential in assessing the quality of health care and the country`s response to bioterrorism. Medical expertise is crucial in death investigations. It begins with the examination of the body and the collection of evidence at the crime scene and continues through medical history, physical examination, laboratory tests and diagnosis, in short, the major components of medical treatment of a living patient. The main objective is to provide objective evidence of the cause, time and manner of death so that the criminal justice system can make a decision. The historical origin of death investigations as a local responsibility has resulted in large differences in the scope, scope and quality of investigations.
Variability is reflected in the organizational placement of the responsible office within government; legal requirements, including certificates and training for investigative personnel; and funding levels. All the characteristics of a strong and credible coroner have been observed in the notorious case of child abduction. A suspect was charged even before the child`s body was found. When the body was found a few days later, the death investigation had to continue quickly during the 10-day window leading up to a preliminary hearing. The coroner, who was confronted with a severely decomposed body, called the forensic entomologist and dentist on call. The dentist was able to identify the victim and decided that suffocation was the cause of death; Some of the victim`s teeth were missing, and the forensic dentist attributed this to the fall due to suffocation pressure. The case was successfully pursued due to the quality of the medical examination. The only testimony the jury reviewed was that of the coroner and entomologist. When asked why they came to this conclusion, the jury replied that “the coroners were the objective investigators in the case. We were counting on them.
A second problem arises from the imbalance between the prosecution and the defence. It is rare for the defense to launch its own investigation into death using the same means as the prosecution. If the coroner or prosecuting coroner is negligent, biased or incompetent, miscarriages of justice are inevitable. In one glaring example, a Texas pathologist alone performed 450 autopsies a year in 40 Texas counties. Exhumations of some bodies revealed no traces of the bodies, suggesting that no autopsy was performed. The term forensic death detection system is somewhat misleading. It is an umbrella term for a mosaic of different state and local death investigation systems. Death reviews are conducted by coroners or coroners.
Their job is to determine the scope and conduct of a death examination, which includes examining the body, deciding whether to conduct an autopsy, and ordering X-rays, toxicology or other laboratory tests. There are big differences between coroners and coroners when it comes to training and skills, as well as the configuration of the state and local organizations that support them. Coroners are physicians, pathologists, or medical examiners with jurisdiction over a county, county, or state. They bring medical expertise to the evaluation of the history and the physical examination of the deceased. A coroner is an elected or appointed official who usually serves a single county and is often not required to be a physician or have medical training. The development of today`s diverse death investigation system dates back to medieval England. Our current legal system has two problems. The first is its antagonistic character: experts can be pressured or selected to adopt unilateral positions.
The courtroom can turn into a battle of experts, which is very confusing for a jury. How can the system be structured to provide objective evidence that such battles are not occurring? The quality of a death detection system is difficult to assess, but it can be measured using several indicators. One of them is accreditation by NAME, the professional organization of forensic pathologists. Only 42 of the country`s coroners, serving 23% of the population, have been accredited by NAME in recent years. Most of the population (77%) is served by offices without accreditation. Another indicator of quality is the legal requirement for education: approximately 36% of the U.S. population lives where death investigators have received little or no special training (Hanzlick, 1996). In Georgia, for example, typical requirements to serve as a coroner are a registered voter who is at least 25 years old, has no criminal conviction, has a high school diploma or equivalent, and receives a 1-week annual education.