Death Investigation Team
The Office of the Medical Investigator directs all investigative activities statewide. The Death Investigation Team includes specially trained and certified field deputy medical investigators (FDMI), medical examiners, coroners and forensic pathologists. All play an integral part in death investigations.
Field Deputy Medical Investigators
Every county in New Mexico has FDMIs who conduct investigations at the scene of death. Their duties include:
- Determining jurisdiction
- Determining possible cause and manner of death
- In the absence of a physician, providing the pronouncement of death
- Taking custody of the body for transport to our office for an autopsy
The investigators often travel to the scene of homicides, suicides, accidental, questionable, and/or unattended deaths as required, and conduct on-scene investigations as required by taking photos, fingerprinting bodies and processing evidence.
The FDMIs present the results of each investigation to deputy medical investigators, who make the ultimate decisions regarding jurisdiction and the need for further medicolegal investigation.
A medical examiner is a physician who determines the cause and manner of death in cases where the death is sudden, unexpected or violent. The manner of death falls into categories of homicide, suicide, accidental, natural or undetermined.
The role of a medical examiner differs from that of the non-physician coroner in that the medical examiner is expected to bring medical expertise to the evaluation of the medical history and physical examination of the deceased. The medical examiner usually is not required to be a specialist in death investigation or pathology and may practice any branch of medicine.
Most systems employing physicians as part-time medical examiners encourage them to take advantage of medical training for medical examiners to increase their level of medical expertise as applied to death investigation. The National Association of Medical Examiners and the American Academy of Forensic Sciences are two organizations that offer specialized training. Twenty-three states have medical examiner systems, and 18 states have both medical examiners and coroners.
A coroner is a public official, appointed or elected, in a particular geographic jurisdiction, whose official duty is to investigate deaths in certain categories. The office of coroner or "crooner" dates back to medieval days when the crooner was responsible for looking into deaths to be sure death duties were paid to the king.
The coroner's primary duty in contemporary times is to make inquiry into the death and complete the certificate of death. The coroner assigns a cause and manner of death and lists them on the death certificate. Coroners are also charged with determining whether a death involved foul play.
Depending upon the jurisdiction and the law defining the coroner's duties, the coroner may or may not be trained in the medical sciences. The coroner may employ physicians, pathologists or forensic pathologists to perform autopsies when there appears to be a question of cause or manner of death.
The forensic pathologist is a subspecialist in pathology whose area of special competence is the examination of persons who die suddenly, unexpectedly or violently. The forensic pathologist is an expert in determining cause and manner of death. The forensic pathologist is specially trained to:
- Perform autopsies to determine the presence or absence of disease, injury or poisoning
- Evaluate historical and law enforcement investigative information relating to manner of death
- Collect medical evidence, such as trace evidence and secretions, to document sexual assault
- Reconstruct how a person received injuries