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Death Investigation: A Guide for the Scene Investigator

NCJ Number
Date Published
November 1999
71 pages
Publication Series

These guidelines for conducting a thorough and competent death investigation represent a consensus of the National Medicolegal Review Panel, which had input from a technical working group of 144 professionals from across the Nation.


The introduction cautions that this handbook is intended as a guide to recommended practices for the investigation of death scenes, since jurisdictional, logistical, or legal conditions may preclude the use of particular procedures contained in the handbook. The foreword consists of brief commentaries by 17 professionals in the field regarding the need for guidelines for death investigations. This is followed by an introductory paper that describes the procedure used to develop the guidelines. The guidelines themselves begin with a section on investigative tools and equipment, followed by a section with guidelines for the performance of tasks to be done immediately upon arriving at the death scene. A section on documenting and evaluating the scene covers photographing the scene; the development of descriptive documentation of the scene; the establishment of probable location of injury or illness; the collection, inventorying, and safeguarding of property and evidence; and interviewing witnesses at the scene. Other sections of the guidelines focus on documenting and evaluating the body, establishing and recording decedent profile information, and completing the scene investigation. The format for each guideline consists of the principle to be applied, authorization, policy, procedure, and a summary.

Date Published: November 1, 1999