Frequently Asked Questions
Q. Who reports the death to the Medical Examiner’s Office?
A. Death reports to the Medical Examiner’s Office are usually taken from law enforcement, funeral homes, or medical facilities which would include hospitals, nursing homes, and hospice. If a death occurs at home, law enforcement should be contacted who then in turn notifies the Medical Examiner’s Office.
Q. How do I report a death to the Medical Examiner’s Office?
A. The number for law enforcement, funeral homes, and medical facilities to report a death is (423) 439-6723. This number is manned twenty-four hours a day.
Q. What cases fall under the jurisdiction of the Medical Examiner and must be reported
to the Medical Examiner’s Office?
A. This is determined by Tennessee State Statute 38-7-108. Death under suspicious, unusual or unnatural circumstances.
(a) Any physician, undertaker, law enforcement officer, or other person having knowledge of the death of any person from violence or trauma of any type, suddenly when in apparent health, sudden unexpected death of infants and children, deaths of prisoners or persons in state custody, deaths on the job or related to employment, deaths believed to represent a threat to public health, deaths where neglect or abuse of extended care residents are suspected or confirmed, deaths where the identity of the person is unknown or unclear, deaths in any suspicious/unusual/unnatural manner, found dead, or where the body is to be cremated, shall immediately notify the county medical examiner or the district attorney general, the local police or the county sheriff, who in turn shall notify the county medical examiner. The notification shall be directed to the county medical examiner in the county in which the death occurred.
Q. What is an autopsy?
A. An autopsy is the postmortem (after death) examination of a body, including the internal organs and structures after dissection, so as to determine the cause of death or the nature of pathological changes.
Q. Will all cases that fall under the jurisdiction of the Medical Examiner be autopsied?
A. No, not all cases are autopsied. It is up to the discretion of a Medical Examiner and depends upon the type of case and circumstances of the case.
Q. How can we get a copy of an autopsy report?
A. Click here for an Autopsy Report Request form.
Send Autopsy Report Request form to:
William L. Jenkins Forensic Center
Johnson City, TN 37614
Q. How do I obtain a Death Certificate?
A. The Forensic Center cannot issue death certificates. A certified copy of the death certificate must be obtained from the Office of Vital Statistics or the funeral home handling the arrangements.
Q. What does it mean when a case is ‘pending’?
A. Death certificates will state ‘pending’ when laboratory studies or further investigations are needed to determine the cause and/or manner of death. When the autopsy/examination report is finalized by the forensic pathologist (usually within 60 days from the date of autopsy) a delayed diagnosis of death addendum is filed with Vital Records listing the cause and manner of death.
Q. How long does it take for the final autopsy report to be completed?
A. Autopsy reports are usually completed within 60 days from the date of autopsy; however, there are cases which can take 90 days or longer depending on the complexity of the case.
Q. How long does a body remain at the Medical Examiner's facility?
A. This depends upon the time it takes to examine a body (or do an autopsy) and take physical evidence. Even if a cause and manner of death is pending, most bodies are able to be released within 24 hours to 48 hours after examination to the funeral home chosen by the family.
Q. Do I need to identify my loved ones at the Forensic Center?
A. No. The Forensic Center does not have viewing facilities and identifications are usually performed at the scene. For more information, call the investigative staff at (423) 439-8038.
Q. Do you need permission of the next of kin to perform an autopsy?
A. By State law, the Medical Examiner is not required to receive permission from next of kin for an autopsy that falls under the medical examiner’s jurisdiction. Religious objections to an autopsy are handled with consultation on a case by case basis.
Q. What happens to personal property brought in with a body?
A. If personal effects are transported with a body, they are inventoried and turned over to the funeral home for return to the family. Some personal effects are turned over to law enforcement. In the cases of homicides, most of the personal effects are turned over to law enforcement as evidence, unless law enforcement instructs our office to release a specific item to the family.