Mission Statement: To provide vital information needed by the county coroner, family of the deceased, Public Health Division, law enforcement, and many other agencies involved in the investigation of a death. The Forensic Examiner Division provides consultation and/or autopsy services to North Dakota County Coroners.
Information for Families
No. Autopsies are conducted for a variety of reasons. including documentation of injuries or determination of the cause of death. Some cases may receive certain forensic tests combined with external examination of the body in lieu of an autopsy. The decision as to whether or not an autopsy will be performed is at the discretion of the pathologist.
The legal next-of-kin should inform our office of any objection they may have to an autopsy being performed. The Forensic Examiner's Office is sensitive to the needs of the family and will seriously consider their objection. However, in many cases, an autopsy is required by law and we will be unable to comply with the family's request.
No. The costs for autopsies performed under the forensic examiner system are paid for by North Dakota tax dollars. The costs, however, do not include funeral, burial or cremation expenses.
In most cases. the property on the deceased is transported to the Forensic Examiner's Office with the body. At our office. the personal property is inventoried. stored and released to the funeral home at the time of release of the body. On occasion, personal property may be retained by law enforcement as evidence.
In cases where the manner of death is not homicide, copies will be prepared upon written request at no charge to the decedent’s personal representative and to the decedent's spouse, child, or parent. Homicide cases will be released only with the written approval of the District Attorney. The written request must include the decedent's full name, date of birth, date of death, your name and relationship to the decedent, and an address where the report needs to be sent.
Each autopsy process and report turnaround time is different. Some autopsy reports may be completed and ready for release anywhere from four to eight weeks. Others may take longer than eight weeks.
In cases where an extended time period is required (more than eight weeks), several variables may be influencing the delay of the final autopsy report. This can include:
- the types of tests required and their associated processing times
- complexity of the individual case
- whether an ongoing police investigation is in progress
Next of kin are able to contact the medical examiner's office directly to receive a tentative timeline of reports.
Information for Coroners
The cost of the actual autopsy, toxicological analyses, and any ancillary studies necessary to make an accurate determination of an individual's cause and manner of death are borne by the state of North Dakota.
The expenses incurred in the transportation of bodies to the office in Bismarck are borne by the county making the referral.
The county coroner with jurisdiction of the body is responsible for arranging body transportation.
The body should not be embalmed. Clothing, personal effects, and any medical interventions should remain on the body. The body must be in an intact body bag with proper identifying tags attached to the body and body bag for admission to the morgue. The body should be refrigerated prior to transport if possible. It is also important to remember any safety equipment or items that aided in the death of the individual (like a ligature or plastic bag), be left in place for examination by the medical examiner.
The clothing and personal effects are removed and inventoried at the time of autopsy. These items may be retained as evidence by law enforcement. If no evidence is retained, the clothing and personal effects are released with the body.
Yes, for all autopsies a Request for Examination/Autopsy form is required.
It provides investigative information which may be used, in addition to the autopsy, in determining the cause and manner of death.
As listed in the North Dakota Century Code 11-19.1-01 part 5:
- Obvious or suspected homicidal, suicidal, or accidental injury
- Firearm injury
- Severe, unexplained injury
- Occupant or pedestrian motor vehicle injury
- An injury to a minor
- Fire, chemical, electrical, or radiation
- Unidentified or skeletonized human remains
- Suffocation, smothering, or strangulation
- Poisoning or illegal drug use
- Prior child abuse or neglect assessment concerns
- Open child protection service case on the victim
- Victim is in the custody of the department of human services, county social services, the department of corrections and rehabilitation or other correctional facility, or law enforcement
- Unexplainable death or death in an undetermined manner
- Suspected sexual assault
- Any other suspicious factor
Yes, a completed Sudden Unexplained Infant Death Investigation Form should accompany or follow infant death referrals. These may be sent by fax or mail.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention designed the protocol to provide the medical examiner/pathologist with a comprehensive understanding of the child's medical history, environmental setting, and the circumstances of his/her death.
The coroner or any person acting as coroner shall report to the State Forensic Examiner, in writing, every death where in the coroner is notified or investigates. These reports may be sent by mail or faxed a t the coroner's convenience. Reported deaths should use the coroner's investigation form.
Please see the web page Criteria for Medicolegal Autopsy.
Yes, the county coroner files are considered confidential. The only exception to this confidentiality is the Report of Death document. This document is generated by the State Forensic Examiner and accompanies all Autopsy Reports. This Report of Death is a public record subject to disclosure under section 44-04-18 of the North Dakota Century Code.
You must meet a requirement from above, and the request must be made in writing. The written request must include the decedent's full name, date of birth, date of death, your name and relationship to the decedent, and an address where the report needs to be sent.
In cases where the manner of death is not homicide, copies will be prepared upon written request at no charge to the decedent’s personal representative and to the decedent's spouse, child, or parent. Homicide cases will be released only with the written approval of the District Attorney. The written request must include the decedent's full name, date of birth, date of death, your name and relationship to the decedent, and an address where the report needs to be sent