There are numerous circumstances that require a Death Investigator to request additional studies such as an autopsy or toxicology. In all cases a Death Investigator's first and primary duty is to rule out at fault deaths. Death Investigators in the Marshall County Coroner's Office are trained, educated, and experienced in determining whether a death is the result of criminal or suspicious circumstances, or foul play. Depending on what the suspected cause and manner of death is will depend on the investigative steps a Death Investigator may request and order.
Average time until case is closed: 2 to 90 days.
If there is enough evidence and suspicion that physical harm, neglect, or other means inflicted by another individual cause the death then an autopsy will be requested. If the Death Investigator and Law Enforcement Investigator feel the death warrants an autopsy they must contact the Marshall County District Attorney. The D.A. is required to approve all autopsies performed through the Marshall County Coroner's Office since the primary responsibility of this office is to determine if criminal means occurred.
Many times our Death Investigators will consult with the Alabama Department of Forensic Science Medical Examiners and Pathology Assistants while on scenes to aid in the investigation. If it is determined an autopsy is to be performed the individual will be taken to the Department of Forensic Science for a examination to be completed by a Medical Doctor (Pathologist or Medical Examiner). Generally the person sent for an autopsy will be released back to the family within 3 days in most cases, with some taking longer.
AUTOPSIES THROUGH THE MARSHALL COUNTY CORONER'S OFFICE AND THE ALABAMA DEPARTMENT OF FORENSIC SCIENCE MAY NOT BE PERFORMED TO ONLY DETERMINE THE CAUSE AND MANNER OF DEATH, IF THERE IS NO SUSPICION OR INDICATION OF INJURIES. A DEATH INVESTIGATOR HAS NO LEGAL AUTHORITY TO ORDER AUTOPSIES WITHOUT THE PROPER EVIDENCE.
Average time until a case is closed: 30 days to 6 months
If there are no signs that physical injuries have occurred that could have resulted in death, a Death Investigator may collect sample to be sent to the lab at the Alabama Department of Forensic Science. Just like during an autopsy (as described above) if there is no evidence that a physical injured cause the death, then the Death Investigator will look at possible chemical means of death.
Medical Record Review
Average time until a case is closed: up to 4 weeks
Unlike a hospital, hospice, and other facility death the Coroner's Office does not have medical records or definitive medical history when a death occurs. A Death Investigator may request medical records on the individual to aid in establishing a definitive medical history. This is often times the case when there is not signs of foul play and toxicology is unavailable or unnecessary.