Under Arizona Law, in order to protect the public’s health and safety,
the Medical Examiner is required to investigate deaths that occur under
certain circumstances and anyone aware of a death that falls under these
circumstances is required by law to promptly report the death to the medical
examiner or a peace officer..
What type of deaths fall under the legal authority of the Medical Examiner’s Office?
Arizona Revised Statute (A.R.S.) §11-593
requires that the following deaths be reported to the Office of the Medical Examiner:
- Death not under the current care of a health care provider as defined pursuant to section 36-301.
- Death resulting from violence
- Death occurring suddenly when in apparent good health
- Death occurring in prison.
- Death of a prisoner
- Death occurring in a suspicious, unusual or unnatural manner
- Death from a disease or accident believed to be related to the deceased’s occupation or employment
- Death believed to present a public health hazard
- Death during anesthetic or surgical procedures
- Unidentifiable remains
It is up to the medical examiner to determine if a case meets jurisdictional requirements
to further investigate and certify the cause and manner of death.
Why is the death being investigated?
Medicolegal death investigations are conducted for the best interest of the public at
large and only under the circumstances listed above. Not all investigations require examination
of the body or a forensic autopsy.
If it is determined that the body requires a postmortem examination, we will make arrangements
for transportation to our office at 701 W. Jefferson St. Phoenix, AZ 85007.
If the body is transported to the Office of the Medical Examiner, an examination by a Medical Examiner
will be conducted to aid in determining the cause and manner of death. The examination will take place as soon
as possible and may include an autopsy. An autopsy is a surgical procedure that allows examination of the
internal organs and structures of the body to aid in determining facts about the death and does not typically
limit open casket viewing.
What if I do not want an autopsy of my family member?
The Medical Examiner’s Office will attempt to honor the family’s wishes if possible; however,
this is not always possible in order to meet our mission and statutory duties and an internal
examination may be required.
Can I request an autopsy of my family member?
If the Medical Examiner has assumed jurisdiction of the death certificate, you may request an autopsy.
Please make the Medicolegal Death Investigator (MDI) aware of any specific questions you have about the
death as an autopsy may or may not be the best way to answer them. The Medical Examiner’s Office will attempt
to honor your wishes, if possible; however, this is not always possible and an autopsy may not be completed on
every case, even if requested.
Is an open casket viewing possible after an autopsy has been completed?
Our procedures do not typically limit the ability to have an open casket viewing. Your funeral service provider
will be able to provide the best information about the ability to view once they have received and prepared the body.
How is the time of death determined?
The time of death is documented as the time the decedent is discovered or pronounced dead.
What is toxicology testing?
Toxicology is the detection of drugs and/or poisons in biological tissues and is different from hospital drug screening
in that it is forensic testing and more rigorous and comprehensive. The Medical Examiner will decide if toxicology testing
is necessary; not all cases require testing. Testing can take several months to complete.
Do I have to identify my family member at the Office of the Medical Examiner?
No. In fact, the Office of the Medical Examiner is a forensic medical and laboratory setting and family members are not
permitted in these areas. Your family member will be identified through visual comparison to a legal form of identification,
visual by family member by photograph, or by other forensic means including fingerprints, dental charts, unique identifying
marks, or DNA.
Can I request a viewing of my family member?
We do not allow viewings at our facility; however, in situations where an immediate family member questions the identification
or otherwise wishes to assist in the identification process the immediate family member may make a written or electronic request
for an identification meeting pursuant to A.R.S §11-597.01. For additional information on this process please call 602-506-1138.
Note: because of the setting at our facility, only a photograph for identification can be provided, we do not allow physical
Release of Remains:
The body of the decedent will be available for release after the completion of the examination by a Medical Examiner.
To facilitate this process, it is imperative that we receive a signed Release of Remains Information Verification Form
from the representative of the funeral home, mortuary, or other service (e.g. cremation society, transportation provider)
designated in the authorization. The release must be executed by the legal next of kin authorized by law to direct disposition
of remains. This person sometimes differs from persons or legal entities authorized to handle other aspects of the decedents
affairs and can be found in A.R.S §36-381. The mortuary, funeral home or other service provider provides the Medical Examiner’s
Office with the release after obtaining authorization from the legal next of kin. Your service provider will also request certain
vital statistic information from the next of kin that must be recorded on the death certificate.
How do I receive personal effects?
Any personal effects obtained by the Medical Examiner’s Office will be released with the body to the selected funeral
home/mortuary unless those items are deemed evidence, in which case they will be released to the appropriate law
If I cannot select a funeral home or mortuary will the Medical Examiner’s Office provide one?
No. Once you have selected a service provider you will need to notify the Medical Examiner’s Office at 602-506-1138.
If one is not selected within 72 hours of the examination then a rotation funeral home will be used. The family may
be subject to any fees accrued by the rotation funeral home.
How long does it take to get a copy of the Medical Examiner Reports?
The length of time required for the completion of reports will vary depending on the agency caseload as well as
the complexity, circumstances, and need for additional testing or investigation required for each individual case.
In most cases, cause and manner of death are determined the day of the examination. In some cases, however, cause
and manner of death may require further testing or investigation in order to accurately determine. In these situations,
the death certificate may have a cause of death listed as “Pending”. To provide the most accurate cause and manner of
death possible requires a thorough death investigation and this can be a time-intensive process. If your case is in a “Pending”
status, please feel free to contact us at any time during the investigation for a status update. Your point of contact for
this is our Community Liaison, who can be reached at 602-506-2083. Once the investigation is completed, the death certificate
will be amended.
How do I obtain a copy of the Medical Examiner Report?
Copies of the report(s) are available to the public following the completion of the case report. If you wish to receive a
copy of the report(s), contact the front office at 602-506-3322 to obtain a request form. If you are the next of kin,
there is no fee to obtain your first copy of the report. A fee will apply to the next of kin only if more than one copy
is requested. If you wish to obtain more than one copy, please enclose $5.00 for each additional copy you wish to receive.
If you are NOT the next of kin, there is a $5.00 charge for each copy of the report(s) you are requesting.
How do I obtain a copy of the Death Certificate?
To obtain a copy of the Death Certificate, you may contact your designated funeral home or mortuary to assist you with
this process or you can contact the Maricopa County Department of Public Health, Office of Vital Registration.
The Office of the Medical Examiner does not maintain Death Certificates.
For additional information please visit: http://www.maricopa.gov/publichealth/programs/vitals/death.aspx
Or call: 602-506-6805
Immediate family members of the deceased are entitled by Arizona Revised Statute 11-597.01
to potentially review images
of the body or be advised of information about the body that may increase their confidence in the identification of the decedent.
Request for an “Identification Meeting” must be made in writing to the Office of the Medical Examiner by an immediate family member.
The request may be delivered via mail, in person during normal business hours, or faxed to (602) 372-8696.
“Immediate family member” is defined in Arizona Revised Statute as a person 18 years of age or older who is the decedent’s:
a) spouse, (b) child, (c) parent, (d) grandparent, (e) grandchild, (f) sibling, or (g) legal guardian.