Bill to Boost Public Confidence in Autopsy Reports Signed by Governor

SB 1189 Prohibits Law Enforcement from Entering Autopsy Room When Individual Died in their Care & States Forensic Autopsies Must be Conducted by Medical Experts

September 28, 2016

SACRAMENTO – A bill jointly authored by Dr. Richard Pan and Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson, SB 1189 to ensure autopsies are conducted only by licensed physicians and forensic autopsy reports are accurate and unbiased has been signed by Governor Jerry Brown.

“SB 1189 builds public confidence and ensures accurate autopsy reports, which provide critical pieces of information in determining the cause and manner of death,” said Dr. Pan, a pediatrician and Senator representing the Sacramento region. “Not only do families deserve to know what happened to their loved ones, but the public and juries need to trust that they received accurate objective information to make the correct verdict on a criminal case.”

“This bill takes an important step toward clarifying current law and restoring public trust in autopsies, and I’m very pleased that the Governor has signed it into law,” said Jackson. “My hope is that this bill helps ensure that the very distressing experience some families had with the Ventura County Medical Examiner’s office last year is never repeated again.”

Senate Bill 1189 would require a forensic autopsy to be conducted only by a licensed physician or surgeon and defines such autopsies as a medical examination to determine cause of death. Recent amendments would allow trained county personnel, under the supervision of a physician or a coroner, to take blood, urine or vitreous samples for the purpose of crime scene investigations.

Additionally, under the bill, if law enforcement personnel was directly involved with the custody of an individual and that person died in their care, they would not be allowed inside the autopsy room during the performance of the autopsy.  Further, the bill requires police reports, crime scene photos and videos or other information that is in the possession of law enforcement be made available to the medical examiner prior to the completion of the death investigation.

“Allowing a law enforcement official that is directly involved in an incident to also be involved in the autopsy presents a major conflict of interest,” said Gregory Bentley President-Elect of the Consumer Attorneys of California. “Precluding law enforcement personnel from autopsies caused or contributed to by their conduct will help to reduce any undue pressure or bias in the course of the autopsy.”

SB 1189 is sponsored by the Union of American Physicians and Dentists (UAPD). “For the sake of families seeking closure and justice, we must ensure the accuracy of forensic autopsies,” said Dr. Stuart A. Bussey, M.D., J.D., president of UAPD. 

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