An autopsy is a dignified surgical procedure, which provides a systematic examination of the body of a deceased person by a qualified physician. The body is inspected for the presence of disease or injury, and minimal specimens of the vital organs and/or body fluids may be taken for toxicological and other analysis. The internal organs and the brain will be examined, then replaced in the body for burial.

When will an autopsy be necessary?

In about one third of the cases investigated by the Medical Investigator an autopsy will be required. The primary concern is to determine whether death resulted from disease, from injury, or from a combination of disease and injury. When death results from physical injuries, the autopsy frequently provides a means to reconstruct the fatal episode. The autopsy also serves to provide information in the case of unidentified persons. To see a detailed list please see: Reportable Deaths.

Who performs an autopsy?

At OMI, all autopsies are performed by or under the direct supervision of a board-certified forensic pathologist, with the assistance of morphology services and forensic photographers.

How long does an autopsy take?

A standard forensic autopsy will take two to three hours. Complicated medical cases or cases of traumatic deaths with multiple injuries can take longer in order to fully document all observations. All autopsies in New Mexico are done at the Medical Investigator facility at the University of New Mexico School of Medicine in Albuquerque. The time involved in transporting cases to and from Albuquerque must be considered when funeral services are planned.

What if objections to the autopsies are raised?

When family members object to an autopsy based upon religious, cultural or other beliefs, every effort to honor that objection will be made. However, if the public responsibility cannot be fulfilled without performing the autopsy, the family will be provided an opportunity to be represented by legal counsel and to have their objection presented to a judge before the autopsy is performed, whenever possible.

How can I get an individual autopsy report?

If the case is under OMI jurisdiction, then the autopsy report, the report of findings and the toxicology report are a matter of public record. Just email and complete the information requested. There are fees associated with the generation and delivery of these reports which must be paid in advance. There is no fee for generation and delivery of reports to family members.

Are tests for drugs and alcohol performed?

In all cases investigated by the Medical Investigator, including those where autopsies are not conducted, fluids are taken for toxicological tests. The results of the tests are often important factors in being able to determine a cause and manner of the death, and in providing motives and explanation for behaviors. In New Mexico, these tests are performed at the State Laboratory in Albuquerque, as well as other contracted laboratories.

What if no one claims the body?

The law provides for burial or cremation when no relative claims the body. These matters are handled through the county finance office in the county where the individual resided or if the residence is unknown, the county where the death occurred.

When will the body be released?

Once the examination is complete, and a family has designated an arrangement for burial or cremation, the body will be released. This is usually to a mortuary or cremation service, but can be directly released to the family. Family members must instruct the funeral home to call the Office of the Medical Investigator for release of the body.

Does the Office of the Medical Investigator ever keep parts of the body?

In certain instances, the Office of the Medical Investigator may retain varying amounts of tissue including whole organs after the body has been released if the tissue is needed for diagnostic purposes.

What happens to the clothing and personal items?

All clothing and personal items held by the Office of the Medical Investigator will be released with the body to the funeral home or crematory, unless it is identified as evidence. Any item identified as evidence will be turned over to the investigating law enforcement agency. For questions regarding these items please contact Investigations at 505-272-3053.

Can we view the body? Do I have to ID my loved one's body?

No. Please contact the funeral home if you wish to view the body. If identification is required, or if your loved one is missing please contact Investigations at 505-272-3053.

How can a family have the body released directly to them?

In New Mexico, family members can transport deceased family members and can conduct burials on private lands. Refrigeration, embalming or burial must take place within 24 hours of death, and restrictions exist on where burials may take place. The Office of the Medical Investigator can assist with these questions.

Office of the Medical Investigator

Contact OMI
Phone: 505-272-3053
Main Fax: 505-925-0546
General e-mail:

Records requests 

Records Request Fax: 505-925-0558

Request for witness testimony

8 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday

Media Relations
Alex Sanchez, PIO
HSC Newsroom