the capitalization of a medical examiner system is the major impediment to progress, an LEAA model can remove that barrier. However, a Medical Examiner Assistance Administration, or MEAA, would need to be structured so that the medical examiner would not be considered a servant of law enforcement and thus would not be placed in a position in which there is even an appearance of conflict of interest. Sensitive cases, such as police shootings and police-encounter deaths, jail and prison deaths, deaths in public institutions, and others, require an unbiased death investigation that is clearly independent of law enforcement. All previous studies have recommended that the medical examiner be independent of other agencies, or if they are to be under the umbrella of a central agency that the reporting chain should be through a health department. The medical examiner is first and foremost a physician, whose education, training, and experience is in the application of the body of medicine to situations that have a legal dimension that must be answered by a practitioner of medicine.
The tremendous variation in death investigation systems also impedes interagency and interjurisdictional communication and the development of standardized best practices both in death investigation and in the performance of medicolegal autopsies.
NIJ and NAME have attempted to provide guidance for best practices. The NIJ document Death Investigation: A Guide for the Scene Investigator; Medicolegal Death Investigator: A Systematic Training Program for the Professional Death Investigator; the NAME Autopsy Standards and Inspection Checklist; and NAME’s Forensic Pathology Autopsy Standards are available, but there is no incentive for death investigation systems to adopt them for use.40
Compliance is further limited because of heavy case loads, deficiencies in trained staff, absence of equipment, nonavailability of required day-to-day and consultative services, and the presence of contradictory policies and practices.
U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, National Institute of Justice. Death Investigation: A Guide for the Scene Investigator. Available at www.ojp.usdoj.gov; S.C. Clark, M.F. Ernst, W.D. Haglund, and J.M. Jentzen. 1996. Medicolegal Death Investigator: A Systematic Training Program for the Professional Death Investigator. Occupational Research and Assessment. Grand Rapids; NAME Autopsy Standards and Inspection Checklist at www.thename.org; and G. Peterson and S. Clark. 2006. Forensic Autopsy Performance Standards at www.thename.org.