After reviewing the features and importance of the work of medical examiners and coroners (ME/C) offices in contributing data on the prevalence, causes, and manner of suspicious and violent deaths, this report promotes the accreditation and certification of ME/C offices and personnel, with attention to how federal departments and agencies can facilitate this effort.
Accreditation and certification are two independent processes for strengthening the medicolegal-death-investigation (MDI) system. This would require MDI offices and investigators to meet established quality assurance standards. On January 30, 2015, the National Commission on Forensic Science (NCFS) approved recommendations calling for the accreditation of ME/C offices and for certification of medicolegal death investigators. Accreditation provides recognition by an impartial external observer that an office meets established quality assurance standards. Certification is a credential of a person who proves she/he has obtained the requisite knowledge, skills, and abilities to perform a specific job in compliance with certification standards. Currently, accreditation and certification are voluntary in the MDI community. The two organizations that offer accreditation for ME/C offices and the one organization that offers certification for medicolegal death investigators are named in this report. There are a number of barriers to implementing accreditation and certification requirements for ME/C offices and investigators. They include the limited number of qualified forensic pathologists and inadequate resources for maintaining or investing in facilities. This report proposes seven actions that appropriate federal departments and agencies should consider in a coordinated effort to ensure and accelerate the accreditation and certification of ME/C offices and MDI practitioners, as well as the retention of existing ME/C practitioners, including support for dedicated funding for improving MDI systems through new or existing federal programs and initiatives. A 30-item bibliography is provided.