While a medical autopsy examines the body of the deceased, a psychiatric autopsy considers the deceased’s mental state. When the circumstances surrounding a death can be interpreted in more than one way and the manner of death is unclear, forensic psychiatrists, along with forensic pathologists, toxicologists and psychologists can compile information about behavior and motive to distinguish among accident, homicide and suicide as possible modes of death.
Forensic death investigation may be pivotal to the decision to pursue criminal charges. Or, when "beyond a reasonable doubt" is too high a threshold to achieve, death investigation by a forensic psychiatrist may contribute to a civil proceeding where expert conclusions need be "more likely than not."
Expert Forensic Death Investigation
In order to make an expert determination of mode and cause of death, the examination conducted by forensic psychiatrists of The Forensic Panel considers numerous factors. Important sources of information in death investigations include the death scene, all documentation pertaining to the death, interviews with family members and associates, the subject’s medical history and evidence of recent stressors, all relevant documents pertaining to the individual’s life history and any changes in that person’s will or life insurance policies. Careful reliance on the evolving history of suicidality, drug use and accident reconstruction are also vital to solving death investigation puzzles.
Peer Reviewed Accountability in Death Investigations
The Forensic Panel has the experience and sophistication for ascertaining the relative contributions of different medical and forensic science specialties to death investigation. Peer review in death investigations ensures accountability in the forensic expert's determination of which pieces of evidence bear most influentially on the cause and mode of questionable death. Where medical certainty is most elusive – because an examinee is deceased – such a scrupulous approach makes the last word in a death investigation possible.