Autopsy & forensics

Autopsy report

History / scene / circumstances & external examination

Last author update: 1 January 2013
Last staff update: 3 November 2020

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Cite this page: Tops TL. History / scene / circumstances & external examination . website. Accessed December 9th, 2022.
Preliminary investigation
  • Circumstances of death need to be reported by the Forensic pathologist (FP) based on information provided by law enforcement personnel who are familiar with the death scene
  • Depending on the case, the FP can obtain crucial information at the death scene or by a phone call to law enforcement investigators
  • Asking specific questions related to the case will help provide clues to Cause / Manner of Death (COD / MOD)
  • Specific questions related to the decedent's past (medical history, recent surgeries, state of mental health, drug / alcohol abuse, etc.) may reduce the need to perform a complete autopsy when only toxicology analysis is required to determine COD / MOD
External examination
  • Overall: state body weight, height, age, body temperature, rigor, and lividity
Head / neck
  • Describe hair color, facial hair, eye color, oral cavity, ear canals, nose, lips, and teeth
  • Describe chest, abdomen, back, anus, and genitalia
  • Describe upper / lower limbs, and fingernails / toenails
  • Describe tattoos, ID tags, medical / surgical intervention, etc...
  • Describe any defects to support cause of death (COD)
Body surface
  • State anything to suggest evidence of cause of death, such as: gunshot wounds, blunt trauma, sharp force injury, illicit drug residue, anasarca, obesity, emaciation, sexual assault

Evidence of injury (examples)
  • This section usually contains both external and internal descriptions of injury
Gunshot wounds (GSW)
  • List each GSW trajectory separately, determine how many entry (penetrating) / exit (perforation) wounds, range of fire, soot / stippling, trajectory, recovery of projectile(s), state in proper order of anatomic landmarks injured by each GSW, hemorrhage, etc.
Blunt force injuries from motor vehicle accident (MVA)
  • Trace evidence collected on body (e.g., paint chips or glass), pattern contusions / abrasions, fractures, lacerations, avulsions, hemorrhage, etc.
Stab wounds
  • Cuts, incisions, defense wounds, determine the knife's sharp verses blunt end in each skin wound, depth of wound, organs affected, hemorrhage, etc.
Additional injuries
  • Minor lesions that are attributed by the mechanism or cause of death
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