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Chapter 383B

Section 383B.225

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383B.225 Medical examiner.

Subdivision 1. Office created. The Office of the Hennepin County Medical Examiner is established.

Subd. 2. Appointment, qualifications, term. The county board shall designate three licensed physicians who shall constitute a Medical Examiner Board. One member shall be a dean or professor of the Department of Pathology of a Class A medical school as designated by the American Medical Association. Another member of the board shall be a member of the Minnesota Society of Clinical Pathologists. The third member shall be designated by the Hennepin County Medical Association from its membership. The Medical Examiner Board shall accept applications for the position of Hennepin County medical examiner when a vacancy exists in the office. Applications therefor shall be considered from doctors of medicine who are: (a) graduates of a medical school recognized by the American Medical Association, (b) members in good standing in the medical profession, (c) eligible for appointment to the staff of the Hennepin County Medical Center, and (d) certified or eligible for certification in forensic pathology by the American Board of Pathology. The Medical Examiner Board shall review the qualifications of the applicants and shall rank the applicants deemed qualified for the position and provide to the county board a report of the seven highest ranked applicants together with their qualifications. The county board shall appoint a county medical examiner from those listed in the report. The term of the examiner shall continue for four years from the date of appointment. Compensation shall be set by the county board. Reappointment shall be made at least 90 days prior to the expiration of the term. If a vacancy requires a temporary appointment, the board of commissioners shall appoint a medical doctor on the staff of the county Medical Examiner's Office to assume the duties of the medical examiner until an appointment can be made in compliance with the specified selection procedure. Any vacancy shall be filled within a reasonable time. Actual and necessary expenses of the Medical Examiner Board shall be paid in accordance with sections 471.38 to 471.415.

Subd. 3. Removal. The county medical examiner may be removed by the county board during a term of office for cause shown after a hearing upon due notice of written charges. The hearing shall be conducted in accordance with the bylaws of the Hennepin County Medical Center. Appeal to the district court shall be allowed if, within 20 days of receipt of a finding of cause for removal, service of a notice of appeal is made upon the chair of the county board or clerk to the board.

Subd. 4. Medical examiner staff. The county medical examiner shall appoint assistant medical examiners to the Office of Medical Examiner as are necessary to fulfill the duties of the office, subject to authorization by the county board. Other members of the staff shall be in the classified service. Duties and authority may be delegated by the examiner to assistant medical examiners or members of the staff as required.

Subd. 5. Reports of death. All sudden or unexpected deaths and all deaths which may be due entirely, or in part, to any factor other than natural disease must be reported to the medical examiner for evaluation. These include, but are not limited to:

(1) unnatural deaths, including violent deaths arising from homicide, suicide, or accident;

(2) deaths associated with burns or chemical, electrical, or radiational injury;

(3) maternal deaths due to abortion;

(4) deaths under suspicious circumstances;

(5) deaths of inmates of public institutions who have not been hospitalized primarily for organic disease and deaths of persons in custody of law enforcement officers;

(6) deaths that occur during, in association with, or as the result of diagnostic, therapeutic, or anesthetic procedures;

(7) deaths due to neglect;

(8) stillbirths of 20 weeks or longer gestation unattended by a physician;

(9) sudden deaths of persons not disabled by recognizable disease;

(10) unexpected deaths of persons notwithstanding a history of underlying disease;

(11) deaths of persons to be cremated if an autopsy was not performed;

(12) deaths in which a fracture of a major bone such as a femur, humerus, or tibia, has occurred within the past six months;

(13) deaths unattended by a physician occurring outside of a licensed health care facility;

(14) deaths of persons not seen by their physician within 90 days of demise, or within 180 days for deaths of persons under the care of a licensed hospice provider;

(15) physician attended deaths of persons occurring in an emergency department; or

(16) deaths of unborn or newborn infants in which there has been maternal use of or exposure to unprescribed controlled substances.

No person, other than the medical examiner, shall issue a record of death in cases of accidental, suicidal, violent, or mysterious deaths, including suspected homicides, occurring in the county.

Subd. 6. Investigation procedure. (a) Upon notification of the death of any person, as provided in subdivision 5, the county medical examiner or a designee may proceed to the body, take charge of it, and order, when necessary, that there be no interference with the body or the scene of death. Any person violating the order of the examiner is guilty of a misdemeanor. The examiner or the examiner's designee shall make inquiry regarding the cause and manner of death and, in cases that fall under the medical examiner's jurisdiction, prepare written findings together with the report of death and its circumstances, which shall be filed in the office of the examiner. When it appears that death may have resulted from a criminal act and that further investigation is advisable, a copy of the report shall be transmitted to the county attorney. The examiner may take possession of any or all property of the deceased, mark it for identification, and make an inventory. The examiner shall take possession of all articles useful in establishing the cause of death, mark them for identification and retain them securely until they are no longer needed for evidence or investigation. The examiner shall release any property or articles needed for any criminal investigation to law enforcement officers conducting the investigation. When a reasonable basis exists for not releasing property or articles to law enforcement officers, the examiner shall consult with the county attorney. If the county attorney determines that a reasonable basis exists for not releasing the property or articles, the examiner may retain them. The property or articles shall be returned immediately upon completion of the investigation. When the property or articles are no longer needed for the investigation or as evidence, the examiner shall release the property or articles to the person or persons entitled to them. Notwithstanding any other law to the contrary, when personal property of more than nominal value of a decedent has come into the possession of the examiner, and is not used for a criminal investigation or as evidence, and has not been otherwise released as provided in this subdivision, the name of the decedent shall be filed with the district court, together with a copy of the inventory of the decedent's property. At that time, an examination of the records of the court shall be made to determine whether a will has been admitted to probate or an administration has been commenced. Personal property, including wearing apparel, may be released to or for the spouse or any blood relative or personal representative of the decedent or to the person accepting financial responsibility for burial of the decedent. If property has not been released by the examiner and no will has been admitted to probate or administration commenced within six months after death, the examiner may sell the property, other than firearms or other weapons, of a deceased person at a public auction upon notice and in a manner as the court may direct. The examiner shall release all firearms of a deceased person to the law enforcement agency handling the investigation and shall cause to be destroyed any other weapon of a deceased person that is not released to or claimed by a decedent's spouse, blood relative, or representative of the estate, or other person who proves lawful ownership. If the name of the decedent is not known, the examiner shall inventory the property of the decedent and after six months may sell the property at a public auction. The examiner shall be allowed reasonable expenses for the care and sale of the property and shall deposit the net proceeds of the sale with the county administrator, or the administrator's designee, in the name of the decedent, if known. If the decedent is not known, the examiner shall establish a means of identifying the property of the decedent with the unknown decedent and shall deposit the net proceeds of the sale with the county administrator, or a designee, so, that, if the unknown decedent's identity is established within six years, the proceeds can be properly distributed. In either case, duplicate receipts shall be provided to the examiner, one of which shall be filed with the court, the other of which shall be retained in the office of the examiner. If a representative shall qualify within six years from the time of deposit, the county administrator, or a designee, shall pay the amount of the deposit to the representative upon order of the court. If no order is made within six years, the proceeds of the sale shall become a part of the general revenue of the county.

(b) For the purposes of this section, health-related records or data on a decedent, except health data defined in section 13.3805, subdivision 1, whose death is being investigated under this section, whether the records or data are recorded or unrecorded, including but not limited to those concerning medical, surgical, psychiatric, psychological, chemical dependency, or any other consultation, diagnosis, or treatment, including medical imaging, shall be made promptly available to the medical examiner, upon the medical examiner's written request, by a person having custody of, possession of, access to, or knowledge of the records or data. In cases involving a stillborn infant or the death of a fetus or an infant less than one year of age, the records on the decedent's mother shall also be made promptly available to the medical examiner. The medical examiner shall pay the reasonable costs of copies of records or data provided to the medical examiner under this section. Data collected or created pursuant to this subdivision relating to any psychiatric, psychological, or mental health consultation with, diagnosis of, or treatment of the decedent whose death is being investigated shall remain confidential or protected nonpublic data, except that the medical examiner's report may contain a summary of such data.

(c) After investigating deaths of unautopsied persons who are to be cremated, the medical examiner shall give approval for cremation and shall record such approval by affixing the examiner's signature on the reverse side of the deceased person's death record.

(d) The medical examiner has the power to subpoena any and all documents, records, and papers deemed useful in the investigation of a death.

Subd. 7. Autopsies. If the county medical examiner deems it advisable and in the public interest that an autopsy be performed upon a body coming under the jurisdiction and control of the examiner, or if an autopsy is ordered by a district court judge, an autopsy shall be performed without unnecessary delay. A report of the facts developed by the autopsy and findings of the person performing the autopsy shall be promptly made and filed in the office of the county medical examiner. When further investigation is deemed advisable, a copy of the report shall be delivered to the county attorney, and to any other official at whose request the autopsy was performed. Every autopsy performed pursuant to this subdivision shall, whenever practical, be performed in the county morgue. Nothing herein shall require the examiner to perform an autopsy upon the body of a deceased person if the deceased person died of known or ascertainable causes or had been under the care of a licensed physician immediately prior to death if the examiner determines the autopsy to be unnecessary. Autopsies performed pursuant to this subdivision may include the removal, retention, testing, and use of organs and parts of organs and tissues, at the discretion of the medical examiner, when removal, retention, testing, or use are useful in determining or confirming the cause of death. When removal, retention, and use of organs and parts of organs and tissues are deemed beneficial, and is done only for the advancement of medical knowledge and progress, written consent or documented oral consent shall be obtained from the heirs, if any, of the deceased person prior to the removal, retention, and use.

The medical examiner may facilitate donation of organs and tissues in compliance with the Uniform Anatomical Gift Act, sections 525.91 to 525.9224.

Subd. 8. Disinterment. Upon application by the county medical examiner, pursuant to the performance of duties under sections 383B.211 to 383B.229, the district court, upon good cause shown, may order disinterment of any dead body. The application shall set forth the names and addresses of those of the next of kin of the deceased person who are known to the examiner. Notice of an application shall be given by personal service, not less than three days prior to the date of hearing on it, upon those of the next of kin of the deceased person who reside in the county. If none of the next of kin of the deceased person can be found in the county, then notice shall be given to the next of kin who reside outside the county in the manner and at the time the court shall direct, unless, upon a proper showing, the court determines that an immediate postmortem examination is necessary. If the next of kin are unknown, the court shall issue its order, upon a proper showing, without notice to any adverse party. When a dead body is disinterred by an order of court to ascertain facts relating to the cause of death, the examiner, having information which indicates that death may have resulted from a criminal act, shall perform a postmortem examination, or autopsy, and shall perform the other duties as required.

Subd. 9. Request for examinations. The county medical examiner may, when requested, make physical examinations and tests incident to any matter of a criminal nature under consideration by the district court or the county attorney or criminal defense counsel and shall deliver a copy of a report of them to the court or attorney making the request. When a copy of the report is delivered to criminal defense counsel, the county attorney shall receive a copy of the same report. If the requesting attorney is not a public defender or prosecutor, the medical examiner may make a reasonable charge for the examination or tests.

Subd. 10. Records and reports. The county Medical Examiner's Office shall keep full and complete records, properly indexed giving the name, if known, of every person or body of a deceased person who is the subject of investigation by the office, the place where the body was found, date and cause of death, and all other available information relating to it. The final report of the investigating examiner, and the findings of the autopsy, if any, shall be attached to the record of each case. The examiner shall, upon request, deliver to the county attorney copies of records or other information in the examiner's office of any cases of a criminal nature. The records and reports, including those of autopsies performed under the provisions of sections 383B.211 to 383B.229, or transcriptions thereof, certified by the county medical examiner, shall be received as evidence in any court or grand jury proceeding in this state. The records and reports which shall be admissible as evidence under this subdivision shall not include statements made by witnesses or other persons unless otherwise admissible. Whenever requested by the Hennepin County attorney, the examiner and the examiner's personnel shall appear and testify before a Hennepin County grand jury or the Fourth Judicial District Court, without fees or additional compensation.

Subd. 11. Disposition. After the investigation has been completed, including an autopsy if one is made, the dead body shall be released promptly to the person or persons entitled to bury the deceased person. If the deceased person is unknown, or if the body is unclaimed, the county medical examiner may deliver the body for purposes of anatomical study if the body is suitable. Otherwise, the county medical examiner shall provide for decent disposition of the remains.

Subd. 12. Preservation of identity. The county medical examiner may preserve and retain photographs, specimens, and other data for establishing or confirming the identification of bodies or for other forensic purposes under the jurisdiction of the office. Upon request by the appropriate agency, the examiner shall make the information available to aid in the establishment of the identity of the deceased person.

Subd. 13. Contracts for services. The board may contract to perform medical examiner services with other units of government or their agencies under a schedule of fees approved by the county board.

HIST: 1981 c 91 s 8; 1986 c 444; 1991 c 319 s 18; 1994 c 636 art 2 s 8; 1995 c 89 s 1-6; 1995 c 189 s 8; 1995 c 259 art 1 s 53; 1996 c 277 s 1; 1998 c 254 art 2 s 43; 1999 c 227 s 22; 1Sp2001 c 9 art 15 s 32; 2005 c 122 s 4