The Spokane County Medical Examiner's Office is a regional center dedicated to excellence in public service by providing professional, scientific, and compassionate forensic death investigation services.
Responsibilities of a Medical Examiner System
The following is a list of responsibilities handled by your Medical Examiner's Office:
- Determine the cause and manner of death. Manner of death is one of five categories on a death certificate. Homicide, suicide, natural, accident, and undetermined. Undetermined is used when the category is unknown or two categories can't be distinguished.
- Ensure the integrity, to the best of our ability, of the personal property of decedents.
- Exonerate the innocent.
- Identify and collect evidence properly.
- Identify the dead with a high degree of certainty using scientific forensic methods.
- Perform investigations at the scene of death.
- Prepare and plan for mass casualty incidents.
- Provide expert legal testimony in criminal and civil matters.
- Provide for disposition of unclaimed, indigent citizens, according to state law.
- Recognize dangerous features of consumer products and report those to federal government.
- Recognize unsuspected homicides.
- Sign death certificates in all cases of unnatural death, and many cases of natural death.
- Treat grieving family members with compassion.
The Spokane County Medical Examiner’s Office is a separate department in Spokane County, and not under the supervision or direction of the Spokane Police Department, the Washington State Patrol, or the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office. The Medical Examiner’s Office is an independent entity. The determination of manner of death (natural, homicide, suicide, accident, or undetermined) is for purposes of the death certificate, only. The Medical Examiner criteria for manner of death is not the same as the prosecutor’s legal determination. For example, most motor vehicle deaths are classified as “accident” by the Medical Examiner. The prosecutor may pursue a legal charge of “vehicular homicide”, if the legal definition is met. Medical Examiner manner of death certification is for generation of public health data. Any determination by the Medical Examiner of suicide, accident or homicide in no way limits the ability of law enforcement to investigate to whatever extent they deem appropriate or necessary.
The death certificate is a Washington State Health Department document, not a medical examiner or coroner document. The death certification process includes classification of the manner of death (Natural, Accident, Suicide, Homicide, or Undetermined), intended to describe the action associated with a death, if any, for public health department vital statistics purposes. In the vast majority of deaths, Washington State law directs the physician last in attendance to certify the death. The Medical Examiners assist the community and the Health Department with death certifications in some of the deaths reported to the Office of the Medical Examiner, most often in cases of unnatural death. The manner of death as used by the Office of the Medical Examiner does not address presence or absence of intent, culpability or justification of any action associated with a death. Manner of death classification was added to the death certificate by public health officials in 1910 to help clarify the circumstances of death and how an injury causing death occurred, assisting nosologists who code and classify cause-of-death information for statistical purposes