Frequently Asked Questions

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Medical Examiner


What happens to the clothing and personal items?

All clothing and personal items accompanying the body to the State Medical Examiner’s Office are logged and stored for safeguard before being released with the body to the transporter, unless they are determined to have evidentiary value. Any item identified as evidence will be transferred to the investigating law enforcement agency. For questions regarding these items, please contact the investigating agency directly.

Does the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner ever keep parts of the body?

Under certain conditions the State Medical Examiner’s Office may retain varying amounts of tissue, including whole organs and bone, after the body has been released if the tissue is required for diagnostic purposes, or is of evidentiary value.    

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

In Mississippi, the only way a family can receive the body of their loved one is if the family member owns or is otherwise affiliated with a funeral home or crematorium and accepts custody of the body while acting in an official capacity. There are no regulations affecting the transport of urns containing cremains (i.e., cremated human remains) by private individuals.

Death Certificates and Reports

What kinds of reports are produced?

The State Medical Examiner’s Office produces several types of reports: the Provisional Pathologic Diagnoses (preliminary report of findings), the External Examination, and the Final Pathologic Diagnoses (final report of findings). While the office does not issue a separate Toxicology report, toxicology results are incorporated into the final report. By law, the county medical examiner investigator is responsible for certifying deaths affecting the public interest and signing the death certificate in a timely manner, generally within 5 days of the death (Miss. Code Ann. § 41-61-63(2)(b)). The death certificate is filed with the state by the Mississippi Department of Health Vital Records Office.  

How soon are reports available?

Preliminary reports are issued to the county medical examiner investigator within several days following the completion of the postmortem examination, and contain the information needed to complete the death certificate. Completion of the final autopsy report is not necessary in order to file a death certificate. For example, a death certificate containing a “pending” cause and/or manner of death is a valid certification of death, and may be amended at a later date when the cause and/or manner of death is determined. The availability of final reports varies significantly based on staffing levels, case load, and case complexity. Our physicians make every attempt to finalize cases as quickly as possible. To request reports, please see: Request Reports.

Who can get copies of the reports?

Documents are provided to law enforcement, district attorneys, special government agencies, and the hospital providing treatment at the time of death. Upon request, a copy of the preliminary and final reports and the toxicology results will be provided by the county medical examiner investigator or by the State Medical Examiner to the next-of-kin at no cost. For specific information on requesting reports, including fees assessed, see: Request Reports .

How is the death certificate obtained?

Once the county medical examiner investigator has certified the death, the death certificate is transmitted to the Mississippi Department of Health Vital Records Office by the funeral home or crematory handling the arrangements. Usually the Informant/Family order death certificates from the funeral home or crematory, who will provide copies to the family. The family does have the option to order them directly from Vital Records.  However, copies of death certificates can be obtained by the Informant or any named Beneficiary for a non-refundable fee by contacting the Mississippi Vital Records Office. For more information, please see Vital Records. Certified copies of death certificates can be ordered by mail, online, phone, or in person.


What is a medicolegal death investigation?

A medicolegal death investigation must be performed when a death falls under the jurisdiction of the county medical examiner investigator, including all suspicious, violent, unexplained, and unexpected deaths. Not all deaths require investigation. For example, an individual with terminal cancer who has died in a nursing home while under a physician’s care will have a presumed cause (i.e., cancer) and manner of death (i.e., natural); no further investigation is likely necessary. However, if foul play is suspected or evident, the death may be designated as one affecting the public interest and subsequently referred for further investigation.  

Why are investigations necessary?

Investigations are conducted to learn answers to the questions surrounding an individual’s death. Body examination and evidence collection can yield important information concerning the presence – or absence – of criminal activity. Proper interviewing of witnesses and/or family members can also provide important clues as to how and why a person died. For example, the “natural” death of an 83 year old presenting with substantial medical history is not the same as the “natural” death of a 30 year old in apparent good health. Requesting medical records and speaking with family and friends of the decedent is a crucial component of the death investigation.   

Does the family pay for any medical investigator services?

Any death falling under the jurisdiction of the Medical Examiner will be investigated at no cost to the family. Note that an investigation is not synonymous with “autopsy.” The county medical examiner investigator is responsible for deciding which cases are to be referred for further postmortem examination. Families of loved ones whose deaths do not meet the jurisdictional criteria may request an autopsy or further investigation, but these families would incur the cost of a private autopsy. This type of autopsy would typically be conducted in a hospital or similar facility.