Suggested Guidelines for the Management of High-Profile Fatality Cases (Report)
Television entertainment programs, such as Quincy M.E. and CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, have popularized and glamorized forensic pathology and medicolegal death investigation. It is likely such shows have also cultivated the public infatuation with actual forensic cases, particularly those involving high-profile fatalities. The definition of a high-profile fatality is a death that elicits extensive media coverage through television networks, radio, and the Internet at one or more sociogeographic levels (eg, local, regional, national, international). Cases precipitating extensive, and sometimes excessive, media coverage may include police-related shootings; deaths related temporally to arrest by the police, during police restraint or incapacitation, or when in police custody; deaths in boot camps; deaths of celebrities or deaths in which celebrities are suspects; serial homicides; deaths in schools and colleges; clusters of fatalities; terror-related fatalities; rape and homicide, particularly of minors; mutilation murders; political assassinations; deaths from threatening epidemics; and unusual methods of homicide. Although medical examiners and coroners (ME/C) can predict that the aforementioned types of cases will be scrutinized in the media, it may not be as easy to predict which “routine” cases will catch the eye of the media and become a high-profile case overnight. A high-profile case may also be created when a forensic pathologist misdiagnoses the cause or manner of death because of failure (1) to satisfactorily investigate the deceased’s medical history, (2) to fully evaluate the circumstances of death, or (3) to recognize and correctly interpret pertinent gross, microscopic, or toxicologic findings. Such errors are understandingly magnified when they result in false criminal charges or the conviction of innocent individuals, unjustified exoneration of the guilty, or removal of children from a household because of unfounded allegations of abuse.