Our Process

Jurisdiction (Why is the Department of Medical Examiner involved)

State law instructs the Department of Medical Examiner to inquire into and determine the circumstances, manner, and cause of all sudden, violent, or unusual deaths, and those deaths where the decedent has not been seen by a physician 20 days prior to death. In such cases, the deceased may be taken to the Department of Medical Examiner's facility and examined by a deputy medical examiner to determine the cause of death. A death certificate is issued after the examination is completed. Occasionally, more extensive testing is required, in which case an interim or deferred death certificate is issued, which allows the family to make funeral arrangements. An amended death certificate will follow after completion of special testing.

Reporting Desk

The Reporting Desk is in charge of receiving the initial notification of death from reporting parties such as law enforcement, health care providers, families and funeral directors. They determine if the death falls under the jurisdiction of the County of Los Angeles Department of Medical Examiner and initiate death investigations, when appropriate.


Per California Government Code Section 27472, 54985 & Los Angeles County Code 2.22.100, the County is authorized to assess certain fees for transportation and handling of decedents. Specifically, this is the cost of transporting the decedent from the place of death to our facility.


Investigations may be simple, involving a few phone calls to verify an expected death from a known terminal condition; or they may be complex, involving a thorough death scene investigation, property protection, and multiple interviews. They may also include an autopsy, identification procedures, and location and notification of next-of-kin.

Identification and Viewing

Please note, the Department of Medical Examiner does not have a decedent viewing facility.


An examination is conducted by a deputy medical examiner to determine the cause and manner of death. The DME will assess whether an autopsy and/or laboratory tests are required as part of the examination. If we do not require an autopsy for our official purposes, the legal next-of-kin may request that we perform one at his/her expense, if desired.

Release of the Body

The decedent's body will be available for release after completion of the examination. Your funeral director will coordinate the release on your behalf. Upon receipt of a signed authorization from the legal next-of-kin, the decedents body will be released to a mortuary/funeral home. The release may be signed by the legal next-of-kin authorized by law to direct disposition of the remains; this person sometimes differs from persons authorized to handle other aspects of the decedent's affairs. The mortuary normally provides the authorization form, obtains the proper signature, and submits the documents to the Department.


Decedents personal possessions in the custody of the Department of Medical Examiner may be claimed by the legal next of kin. Governmental documents (drivers licenses, passports, military identification cards) will not be released to the next of kin. These documents will be returned to the issuing agency for disposition. Sometimes, personal possessions are taken into custody by law enforcement agencies. You will need to contact those agencies to recover personal possessions in their custody. Clothing is not usually considered property. Unless there is a need to hold clothing as evidence, it is released to the mortuary recovering the deceased. Clothing that presents a health and safety hazard may be disposed of for the safety of all persons involved.


Records can include the Department of Medical Examiner case reports, Proof of Death letters, and Port of Entry Letters. The Department of Medical Examiner case reports are stored in our Records Unit for safe keeping. Case reports usually include autopsy, toxicology, and investigator reports.

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