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THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 12, 1998202/307-0703


WASHINGTON, D.C. -- A new guide, National Guidelines for Death Investigations, will provide those who work in death investigations with tools to be more effective. The Justice Department's National Institute of Justice (NIJ) released the guidelines, which are the product of the National Medicolegal Review Panel, a multi-disciplinary group of nationally recognized experts from the medical, forensic and legal professions.

"Investigating a death scene is very complex," said NIJ Director Jeremy Travis. "Those responsible for investigating a death must be sure not to disturb important evidence that can help determine the nature and cause of the death. We hope that these guidelines will help police, coroners and other officials who are actively involved in investigating deaths."

The report includes guidelines for processing information about the scene of death, evaluating the body, establishing and recording information to construct a profile of the decedent and completing the scene investigation. In addition, the report discusses 52 tools necessary to thoroughly investigate a death scene.

Noted medical examiners, politicians, coroners, and other public officials contributed commentaries on the need for death investigation guidelines. These commentaries discuss the effects other-than-natural deaths have on society and the need for uniformity in investigating them.

The experts began their study in June 1996 to identify, delineate and assemble a set of investigative tasks that should and could be performed at every death scene. The study's focus was on the death scene, the body and the interactive skills and knowledge that must be applied to ensure a successful case outcome.

The document is divided into six chapters:

* Investigative Tools and Equipment, which lists the 52 tools necessary to thoroughly investigate a death scene.

* Arriving at the Scene, which examines the principles, authorizations, policies and procedures associated with an investigators initial contact with a crime scene.

* Documenting and Evaluating the Scene, which provides guidelines for photographing the scene, descriptive scene documentation, establishing probable injury or illness location, collecting evidence and safeguarding procedures and witness interviews.

* Documenting and Evaluating the Body, which examines photography of the body, external examination, evidence preservation, decedent identification, documenting post-mortem changes, scene debriefing, notification procedures and ensuring security of remains.

* Establish and Recording Decedent Profile Information, which provides guidelines for documenting discovery; terminal episode; and medical, mental health, and social histories of the decedent.

* Completing the Scene Investigation, which addresses the issues of jurisdiction over the body, release of jurisdiction, exit procedures and family assistance.

In addition to NIJ, the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provided funding for developing these guidelines.

To obtain a copy of National Guidelines for Death Investigation, contact the National Criminal Justice Reference Service at 1-800/851-3420. For additional information about NIJ or its programs, visit its web site at: To learn more about OJP and its other programs, visit its web site at:

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NIJ 98-031

For additional information contact: Doug Johnson at 202/616-3559