02: Cause and Manner of Death

Hopefully, these notes will help you as you listen to the podcasts and as you do further research. For more complete inforamtion on any of the forensic science topics check out FORENSICS FOR DUMMIES and HOWDUNNIT:FORENSICS

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8-21-18: Criminal Mischief #02: Cause and Manner of Death Notes

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The ME’s 3 most important determinations: Cause, Manner, and Time of Death



Cause of death is why the individual died
Heart attack, GSW, traumatic brain injury, diseases

Mechanism-physiological derangement that cause death

One cause—several mechanisms

Example: MI-arrhythmia, cardiogenic shock, rupture 

Example: GSW—heart or brain damage, exsanguination. wound infection

One mechanism—several causes

Example: Exsanguination—GSW, ulcer, meds, disease 

Just as a cause of death can lead to many different mechanisms of death, any cause of death can have several different manners of death. A gunshot wound to the head can’t be a natural death, but it could be deemed homicidal, suicidal, or accidental.

MANNERS OF DEATH: For what purpose and by whose hand

NATURAL: Natural deaths are due to the workings of Mother Nature in that the death results from a natural disease process. Heart attacks, cancers, pneumonias, and strokes are common natural causes of death. This is by far the largest category of death that the ME sees. 

ACCIDENTAL: Accidental deaths result from an unplanned and unforeseeable sequence of events. Falls, automobile accidents, and in-home electrocutions are examples of accidental deaths. 

SUICIDAL: Suicides are deaths that come by the person’s own hand. Intentional self-inflicted gunshots, drug overdoses, or self-hangings are suicidal deaths. 

HOMICIDAL: Homicides are deaths that occur by the hand of another. Note that a homicide is not necessarily a murder. Homicide is a determination of the ME; murder is a legal charge that is determined by the courts. Though each would be ruled a homicide by the ME, the legal jeopardy is much different for a court verdict of negligent homicide as opposed to first- or second-degree murder. 

UNDETERMINED OR UNCLASSIFIED: This extra category is used in situations where the coroner can’t accurately determine the appropriate category. 

Heroin/Drug OD

Psychological Autopsy

Manner determines whether there is an investigation

Manner not fixed—can change
Proximate cause—the cascade of events

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