What We Do
There are many misconceptions about what exactly a Medical Examiner's Office is responsible for. We are guided in our responsibilities by Florida Statute 406, as well as Administrative Code 11-G as established by the Florida Medical Examiner Commission.
To better understand our responsibilities, F.S. 406 is listed below followed by a brief explanation:
Florida State Statutes Ch. 406.11, Florida Administrative Code 11G-2
A. The medical examiner is required by law to determine the cause and manner of death when 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; or
12. by disease, injury or toxic agent resulting from employment.
The Medical Examiner is responsible for doing whatever investigation or examination is deemed necessary to determine the cause and manner of death within the twelve (12) listed types of deaths.
Florida Statute 406.11 and 406.12 gives the Medical Examiner full authority to do whatever is necessary to determine these two things. That means, it is not essential that permission be given by next of kin for an autopsy to be performed, though we certainly hope for a highly cooperative environment.
Further Duties and Obligations
A Forensic Investigator typically responds to and examines all bodies and surroundings at violent death scenes occurring within our district. This also includes apparent or suspected drug overdose deaths. During the scene investigations, the investigator is attempting to gather as much information regarding the circumstances leading up the death, past medical history, environmental contributory factors, etc. through observation, interviewing witnesses and law enforcement, photography, and other means.
For this reason it is important that the body and/or any items on or near the body not be moved until the arrival of the Medical Examiner Investigator if at all possible. Guns, medications, illicit drugs or drug paraphernalia, or any other wounding objects are included in the items that should not be moved.
However, bear in mind, lifesaving procedures, such as CPR, should take precedent over the preservation of the scene.
Autopsies and Reports
Cases are examined or autopsied throughout the week and sometimes on weekends. The medical examiner does not require the permission of next-of-kin to proceed with an autopsy or examination. Death certificates are initiated by this office and completed by the funeral home making the final arrangements as determined by the family.
An autopsy is an intricate medical procedure often requiring complex laboratory tests and for this reason complete results may not be available for several weeks after the death. Autopsy reports are only issued once all test results have returned and have been analyzed. We ask for your patience on cases involving drugs or other complex issues, the autopsy report may not be completed for up to 90 days, depending on the complexity of the case. This means that the autopsy report may not be immediately available to the family. However, this should not be an issue for insurance companies as they should be accustomed to the process.