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SUNY Buffalo Law School
Adams, Anne

Physical Evidence in the Courtroom
Professor Anne Adams
 I.            Autopsies
A.    When done
1.      Required by law under certain circumstances
a.       Sudden death (including suicide)
                                                                                            i.            Whenever there is no treating physician present to account for the cause
                                                                                          ii.            Even when the cause is obvious
b.      Where the cause of death is not apparent
c.       Whenever the death was violent
                                                                                            i.            Accidental or otherwise
d.      Stillborn deaths or infant deaths (within 24 hours of birth)
e.       Death while in police custody
f.       When the body is unclaimed or unidentified
2.      By request
a.       Family, police, treating physician can request, but Medical Examiner has final decision
B.     Procedure
1.      Goals of autopsy
a.       Identification of the victim
b.      Cause of death
c.       Manner of death
d.      Health risks
                                                                                            i.            To assure that the cause of death was not an epidemic of some sort
e.       Preservation of evidence
                                                                                            i.            In a murder, the body itself is a piece of evidence
                                                                                          ii.            In a rape, the body is the primary crime scene
2.      Procedure
a.       Body is cut open
                                                                                            i.            T-incision
                                                                                          ii.            Y-incision
b.      Organs removed and weighed
c.       Body examined under black lights

                            ii.            Cardioactive agents (heart medication)
                                                                                        iii.            Antipsychotic drugs
                                                                                         iv.            Antiepileptic drugs
c.       Non-medical toxins
                                                                                            i.            Carbon monoxide
                                                                                          ii.            Alcohol
                                                                                        iii.            Cyanide
                                                                                         iv.            Arsenic