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For Law Enforcement and Legal


The California State Government Code and Health & Safety Code require that the Coroner be notified whenever a person dies and their death is the result of criminal means or other unnatural causes. Additionally, certain other natural deaths fall under the jurisdiction of the Medical Examiner-Coroner simply because there either is no physician to sign a death certificate, or the physician is unwilling or legally prohibited from doing so.


Miscellaneous Specimens

Local law enforcement agencies may occasionally come into contact with cremated human remains, bones or tissue specimens. 

Cremated Remains

Pursuant to section 7104 of the Health and Safety Code, the law enforcement agency with the possession of the cremated remains should initiate a found property report and attempt to return the remains to the next of kin or rightful owner by performing a reasonably diligent search for the next of kin or rightful owner. 
 

Only after a reasonably diligent search has been performed and the next of kin or rightful owner is not located, shall the law enforcement agency notify the Medical Examiner-Coroner.  The law enforcement agency will contact the Coroner to schedule an appointment whereby the remains and the found property report may be transferred to the custody of the Coroner. 

Skeletal Remains / Miscellaneous Bones

Bone appearing human should be reported to the Coroner immediately.  If the apparent human bones are still in the place of discovery, the Medical Examiner-Coroner will determine the extent and timing of the response.  The Coroner will dispatch an experienced Special Operations Response. team member to make an assessment of the scene and the resources necessary for a successful recovery.  In some case the Coroner may determine there is no reason to hold the original place of discovery, therefore the bones may be brought to the Forensic Science Center if prior arrangements have been made with the Coroner Watch Commander.  Skeletal or disarticulated remains will not be recovered by the Coroner personnel in open / outside areas during hours of darkness using artificial light. The location should be marked and arrangement made to conduct an organized and thorough response the following morning. 

Tissue Specimens

Tissue appearing human may be reported to the Medical Examiner-Coroner.  The Coroner will attempt to determine if the tissue has forensic value, which includes determining whether the tissue is human, and, if human, whether the loss of the tissue necessarily means there was a death.  If the tissue is still in the place of discovery, the Coroner may elect to respond.  In some cases the Coroner may request a photograph from the law enforcement agency, or the tissue to be brought into the Forensic Science Center by the law enforcement agency.

Identifications/Notifications

The Medical Examiner-Coroner is mandated to identify each decedent under its jurisdiction using identification methodologies that are accepted forensic standards.  The Medical Examiner-Coroner will not confirm an identification until the Department is satisfied that this standard has been met. 
 

Agencies should not release the names of decedents until they have verified the true name of the decedent with the Coroner and the legal next of kin have been notified. 

Subpoenas, Coroner Reports and Photographs

The Medical Examiner-Coroner maintains two types of documents. 

  • ‘Non-Exempt’ documents are kept as part of the “Coroner Report” and are available to the public upon request.
  • ‘Exempt’ documents, including worklists, notes, instrument tracings, calibration and quality control information, and/or photographs that support the formal reports, are exempt from public disclosure and are available to legal entities upon request.


To request Laboratory ‘Discovery’ (i.e. to obtain ‘Exempt’ documents), please provide an itemized request with a Subpoena Duces Tecum to the Department’s Subpoena Desk or call 323-343-0518 with any questions. 
 

Law enforcement personnel should contact the Medical Examiner-Coroner’s law enforcement desk at (323) 343-0513 and make any other report requests. While the Coroner’s report is a public document, the photographs remain Coroner property and should be carefully controlled by the receiving agency.

Retrieving Evidence

Evidence collected by ME-C personnel may include exemplars, projectiles, decedent clothing, ligatures, items of interest for DNA, and sexual assault kits. Evidence from cases considered as homicide or treated as homicide (officer involved shooting, undetermined, law enforcement-related, in-custody) are kept until retrieved by or authorized for disposal by the investigating law enforcement agency. Depending on the type of evidence and final mode of case, the retention policy varies. To find out more or to pick up evidence, Law Enforcement Agencies or Crime Laboratory representatives can make an appointment with the Evidence Control section by contacting 323-343-0501.

Bloodborne Pathogen Testing

EMERGENCY PERSONNEL:

1. During the course of his/her duties, an emergency first responder may become exposed to blood or other bodily fluids from a coroner’s case. In conjunction with their respective department’s exposure protocol, this office will conduct HIV & Hepatitis C testing on a decedent (exposure source) at the request of a health care provider currently treating the exposed personnel.

2. The request must be made on the Department’s confidential “Request/Exposure Report” form. When this signed Request/Report form is returned to the Forensic Laboratories Division (FAX: 323-222-5171) the decedent's blood will be tested for HIV & Hepatitis C.

3. All results will be held in confidence by the Chief, Forensic Laboratories Division.  HIV & Hepatitis C test results may only be released to the health care provider for the exposed emergency responder, or directly to the “designated officer” of the emergency responder’s department.

GOOD SAMARITANS:

1. The Department of Medical Examiner-Coroner will honor a “Request/Exposure Report” form from a Good Samaritan who has been exposed to blood or other bodily fluids during life saving procedures provided to a decedent before their death.

2. Negative test results will be provided directly to the exposed individual.

3. Any positive test results will be referred to the County’s AIDS Program Office for notification to the exposed individual.

FAMILY MEMBERS:

1. A family member of the decedent may request an HIV & Hepatitis C test be performed. In this case a letter of authorization signed by the next of kin is required.

2. Negative test results may be provided to the next of kin.

3. Any positive test results will be referred to the County’s AIDS Program Office for notification to the next of kin.

Security Hold

The placement of a “Security Hold” by a law enforcement agency on a homicide, officer involved shooting, in-custody death, or other Coroner case, will limit the amount of case specific information that may be released to the media or other interested caller by the Medical Examiner-Coroner’s Office.  The placement of a “Security Hold” does not restrict the release of the case number, name, age, race, gender, date of birth or city of residence. (if the decedent is identified and the legal next of kin notified) or the final cause of death.

All requests for a “Security Hold” must be in writing and dated and signed by either the assigned Detective or Investigator or other management personnel within the organization that is requesting the “Security Hold”.  Should the requesting organization determine it necessary to extend the “Security Hold” to the decedent’s name, age, race, gender, date of birth and city of residence or withhold the final cause of death, this must be specifically requested in the Security Hold request letter.

 

Once a Security Hold has been requested in writing for a particular case or cases, written authorization is required from the law enforcement agency for release of the Security Hold.

 

While the Medical Examiner-Coroner has a case on Security Hold at the request of a law enforcement agency, any written press releases or public statements by the handling law enforcement agency should be coordinated with the Medical Examiner-Coroner.  Press releases should be faxed or e-mailed to the Medical Examiner-Coroner’s Public Information Officer.

Jurisdictional Boundaries

The Medical Examiner-Coroner’s jurisdiction covers deceased persons located within the County of Los Angeles.  In the event a victim is killed, dies or is gravely injured in Los Angeles County, and the body is transported to or discovered in a location outside of Los Angeles County, the Coroner, Sheriff-Coroner or Medical Examiner having jurisdiction in the County where the body lies must be contacted by the Los Angeles County Medical Examiner-Coroner and an official request to transfer jurisdiction can be made.

 

The local law enforcement agency handling the criminal investigation should notify the Los Angeles County Medical Examiner-Coroner, who will contact the outside Coroner/Medical Examiner agency and make an official request that the jurisdiction be relinquished. Neither jurisdiction is under any obligation to accept or release jurisdiction.

Next of Kin Notification

It is the Medical Examiner-Coroner’s responsibility to notify the decedent’s next of kin of the death of their loved one.  If you prefer to notify the next of kin as part of your investigation, in lieu of the Coroner making the notification, this must be coordinated with Medical Examiner-Coroner personnel.  Efforts at notification should begin immediately.

 

Remember that the Medical Examiner-Coroner must have documentation of notification; therefore, after a successful notification has been made, a courtesy call to the Medical Examiner-Coroner’s office is imperative to advise that the notification was successful and to whom it was made. Unsuccessful notification attempts should be reported as well. If you find yourself unable to complete the notification, please contact the Coroner investigations section immediately.

 

The Coroner will allow an agency 24 hours to complete their notification effort.  After that period, the Coroner will initiate its own efforts to notify the legal next of kin. Please coordinate your efforts with our Notifications Unit, which can be reached at (323) 343-0755.

In Custody Deaths

A custodial death is any death that occurs while a decedent is in the custody or control of a law enforcement employee, or when a decedent is under order of confinement in the Los Angeles County Jail System or in any other city, county, state or federal confinement facility.

Death notification will normally be accomplished by the assigned Medical Examiner-Coroner Investigator.  When a law enforcement agency assumes the responsibility of notification of death to the legal next of kin, the Coroner shall be advised as soon as possible after the notification is completed.  

Viewing Autopsy

Law Enforcement personnel handling a death investigation may request to receive a two hour notification prior to the Post-Mortem Examination in a case.  You will need to provide the Medical Examiner-Coroner Investigator with all means by which you wish to be contacted.  This may include a pager, cellular telephone, office telephone, Watch Commander telephone or a home telephone (personal telephone numbers will not be made part of the official report).  If you are reporting a hospital death, you will need to provide the same information to the person taking the death report or to the Watch Commander.

The assigned Deputy Medical Examiner will attempt to give you a two-hour advance notice to you through the contact number(s) that you provide. The only person(s) authorized to attend autopsies are sworn staff whose primary duty is the criminal investigation related to the specific death being examined that day. Guests of any type, regardless of reason or intention, are not permitted in the autopsy room or on the security floor.

Reporting of Deaths

Detailed information is not required for an initial report of death if the body is still at the scene. Basic information such as location, callback telephone number, preliminary mode, sex of victim(s) and number of victims will suffice as the initial report. Death reports for bodies that have been transported to a hospital will require additional information since the scene is no longer intact. Once death is pronounced, no one should be permitted to further disturb the body or any related evidence. The clothing and personal property of the decedent fall within the Coroner’s jurisdiction and should not be further disturbed, discarded or release prior to the Coroner’s arrival. Anything that was on or with the decedent when they arrived at the hospital should remain with the body pending Coroner arrival.

The law requires an “immediate” notification to the Medical Examiner-Coroner’s Office when a death falls under Coroner jurisdiction. It is understood that in some deaths, especially homicides, scene containment and determining the investigative parameters occasionally take time. However, most deaths should be reported within one hour of pronouncement or discovery. Law enforcement personnel reporting a death should advise the Medical Examiner-Coroner’s personnel when reporting a death, if they desire that the Coroner’s response be delayed due to investigative concerns. 

The Medical Examiner-Coroner’s Office will proactively respond to certain scenes when the Coroner determines that an immediate response is advisable. The Coroner will not interfere with the criminal investigation unless issues concerning evidence degradation, wound interpretation, unnecessary body decomposition or post-mortem changes will interfere with the medico-legal requirements of the Coroner. For these reasons the law gives the Coroner the authority to determine when the body will be moved at a scene or removed from a scene.

The Medical Examiner-Coroner’s personnel will respond when requested and conduct the death investigation. A sworn Coroner’s Investigator will respond to your scene. Additionally, a transport driver will arrive separately in a removal vehicle. In certain cases, a Coroner Criminalist and/or a Coroner Photographer will respond either upon the request of detectives or the Coroner’s Investigator.

Moving the body with Coroner Permission

When an officer believes the circumstances surrounding the scene requires moving the body prior to the Coroner’s arrival, the Coroner shall be contacted immediately by phone and be appraised of the circumstances necessitating the movement of the body.  The Coroner may authorize the body to be moved to a nearby location when appropriate. 

Moving the body without Coroner Permission

In some rare cases, exigent circumstances may require the body to be moved to a secure location prior to the law enforcement agency contacting the Coroner.  This must only be considered when the circumstances are such that the scene cannot reasonably be rendered safe and the delay caused by contacting the Coroner for permission to move the body may result in loss of the body or crucial evidence on the body. 

When the body is floating in the ocean, a river or pool it may be removed from the water and moved to a boat or the shore immediately adjacent to the location of the discovery prior to contacting the Coroner.  Bodies beneath the surface of the water should only be removed from the water when Coroner personnel are present due to accelerated decomposition of such bodies once out of the water. 

When the body is in immediate danger of being damaged by approaching fire or other hazard it may be moved to a safe location immediately adjacent to the location of death prior to contacting the Coroner.

When the body must be rescued from a violent environment where officer safety is in jeopardy, such as civil unrest or barricaded suspect situations or SWAT operations it may be moved to a safe location immediately adjacent to the location of death prior to contacting the Coroner.  Law Enforcement agencies should exercise extreme caution before moving a body when the death was not witnessed.

Body Transportation

Bodies will be transported by Medical Examiner-Coroner’s personnel to the Coroner’s Forensic Science Center located at 1104 North Mission Road in Los Angeles. The office is located just off the Golden State Freeway (I-5) at the intersection of Mission Road and Marengo Street. The body will be held at the facility until released to a private mortuary selected by the legal next of kin or for County disposition.