A death scene investigation, often called medicolegal investigation, is a crucial part of the overall investigation into how and why a person died. An investigation is essential when death involves any suspicious, violent or unexplained circumstances. Forensic pathologists rely heavily on competent medicolegal death investigators to aid in the investigation process. These investigators are usually the “front line” workers and are the ones with the coroner / medical examiner’s office who initially respond to a scene, pronounces a death, interviews witnesses, does a brief examination of the body at a scene, and does an examination of the area surrounding a body at the scene. The medicolegal death investigator will usually write a report of their findings and report their information directly to a forensic pathologist. If an autopsy is to be performed, the medicolegal investigator often attends the autopsy to help correlate their findings with the autopsy findings. A medicolegal death investigator should be well trained before they are allowed to lead a death scene investigation.
Medicolegal investigators often have experience in the medical field and experience working with law enforcement. Certification with the American Board of Medicolegal Death Investigators should be a goal of every medicolegal death investigator. The successful outcome of an investigation involves a few steps: careful examination of the scene, correlation of scene findings, and interpretation of the data observed. Each of these steps is important and should be performed by an investigator who can provide specialized input from both forensic and medical perspectives.
The examination of situations surrounding a death, or what may have led to a death, may involve careful photo documentation and detailed written documentation to allow the investigator to refer back to the scene during later stages in the investigation and final report. If an autopsy is to be performed, it is important for the scene investigator to discuss his/her findings with the forensic pathologist before the autopsy examination commences. During and after the autopsy, correlation with scene findings and autopsy results are essential to a successful death investigation. Law enforcement investigative findings, witness interviews and medical record review can also be very important elements to consider. After all the information from the various sources are gathered, the data is pieced together to provide a complete representation of the circumstances which led to the death. The cause and manner of death are determined during the interpretation phase of the investigation.
Investigations surrounding suspicious, violent or unexpected deaths deserve nothing less than professional and knowledgeable attention. To provide the most value to an investigation, the forensic pathologist should work closely with medicolegal investigators that are knowledgeable and experienced in not only forensics but also basic medical processes. Dr. Havlik with The Pathology Group, PC has the expertise in working with and advising medicolegal death investigators. This team effort and hard work between Dr. Havlik and the investigators will ensure a successful death investigative process with accurate and reliable conclusions.