Medicolegal Death (World of Forensic Science)
Medicolegal death is the term used to describe any unclear or vaguely suspicious death that must be investigated such as unexpected, sudden, or violent deaths. Besides all cases of homicides such as those involving criminal violence, medicolegal death investigations usually include persons who were in detention centers and jails, in apparently good health, poisoned, apparent suicides, with diseases that could threaten the health of the public, undergoing medical treatment (or when death occurred less than 24 hours after admission to a hospital) or a surgical procedure, infants and children, prominent or famous involved with accidents, or unclaimed after death.
Generally, members of the medical examiner's office or coroner's office are authorized to investigate all medicolegal deaths. The basic tool used in any death investigation is the autopsy, either a medical examination performed by a pathologist in order to determine the cause of death or a medicolegal examination performed by a medical examiner (and ordered by legal authorities) in order to ensure that justice is carried out and to determine the cause of death under the auspices of medicolegal death. During a medicolegal autopsy, a law enforcement representative, such as the investigating police detective at the crime scene, will be present during the examination in order to contribute any information that might be important to the investigation. In addition, relatives or friends of the deceased may be asked to make a positive identification either at the scene of the crime or later during the medicolegal autopsy.
The series of steps that is usually required for a medicolegal autopsy include: (1) an examination of the scene of the death (such as taking photographs of the body and the surrounding area), (2) an identification of the body (with the help of photographic identification cards and acquaintances of the victim), along with appropriate tagging of the body, (3) an external examination of the corpse (including a detailed description of all injuries and wounds), (4) a dissection and internal examination (including skeletal and dental characteristics), along with a recorded verbal account of the autopsy, and (5) a toxicological examination of all body fluids, organs, and tissues (for evidence of alcohol, drugs, poisons, and other relevant forensic substances).
SEE ALSO Autopsy; Coroner; Death, cause of; Identification; Medical examiner; Pathology; Toxicology.