Death Investigation Process in Marion County
When a Death Has Occurred
First responders such as Emergency Medical Technicians (EMT), fire fighters, and police officers are called to the scene. After all life-saving efforts have been exhausted and death has been declared, the Marion County Medical Examiner's Office and the District Attorney's Office are contacted and notified of the death. A first responder or an investigator from our office may ask you whether or not you have a funeral home preference so that arrangements can be made as soon as possible. If you do not have a funeral home in mind, an "on-call" funeral home may be contacted to arrange for temporary holding of your loved one until final arrangements can be made.
Trained investigators staff the Marion County Medical Examiner's Office. These investigators are referred to as Medical-Legal Death Investigators or MDI's. These individuals are state or nationally certified and have completed a level of training found in the National Guidelines for Death Scene Investigation published by the National Institute of Justice.
During the initial investigation, an MDI is assigned to the case. This investigator may respond to the scene of death, perform an external body examination, interview witnesses, order medical records, consult with family physicians, obtain lab specimens, or perform other duties as required. Each case is unique and may require a variety of investigative techniques. Investigators will work collaboratively with law enforcement agencies, medical providers, emergency services personnel, and other agencies during the initial investigation process.
After the Initial Investigation
After the initial investigation is completed, cases are discussed with the Marion County Medical Examiner and/or forensic pathologists at the Oregon State Medical Examiner's Office. These medical doctors can order an autopsy, additional lab work, or follow-up investigation to help them determine the cause and manner of death.
Not every case requires an autopsy, and in many cases the cause and manner of death may be discovered through medical record review, external examination, or toxicology testing alone. The investigator assigned to the case will be able to answer any questions you may have about the process.
If an autopsy or toxicology testing are needed to learn the cause and manner of death, a "pending" death certificate will be issued to the family until final results are available. Once an amended death certificate has been issued, families can exchange their pending certificates with the funeral home or vital statistics.
Please be aware that final results for autopsies and toxicology tests are not available immediately. Final test results and full reports are typically available 4-6 months after the death has occurred. This does not mean that your loved one needs to be held during this time, and families can typically expect that final arrangements will be possible within 1-3 days after the death has occurred.
Conclusion of the Investigation
After an investigation has been completed, a detailed report and a death certificate are issued. Copies of any reports must be requested through the Oregon State Medical Examiner's Office, which is the primary custodian of all death investigation records. Death certificates can be obtained either from your chosen funeral home or from Vital Statistics. Please understand that records are only released to those individuals with a need-to-know, which include family members, estate managers, and certain businesses such as banks or insurance companies. Cases are never fully "closed" and death certificates may be amended later if new information comes to light.
Limited and Non-Investigation Cases
Some deaths in Marion County do not require the services of the Medical Examiner. Deaths arising from natural causes where a physician is present would be one example. Another example would be a person who is on hospice care for a known natural illness. In these cases, the Medical Examiner is not required to be notified. The attending physician will sign the death certificate. Normally, the funeral home will assist in contacting the doctor and arranging the details. Ultimately all death certificates, including those not requiring the services of the Medical Examiner's Office, are reviewed by the Oregon State Vital Statistics Section.