Medical Examiner's Office FAQ

What is a Medical Examiner (ME)?

Medical Examiners are licensed physicians, usually Forensic Pathologists who certify the cause and manner of death, based on his/her expert opinion following an investigation and medical examination. This examination may include an autopsy, toxicology and other laboratory testing.

Type of Reportable Deaths

 New York State County Law requires that the Medical Examiner investigate the circumstances and determine the cause and manner of all deaths that are or appear to be:

  • A violent death, whether by criminal violence, suicide or casualty;
  • A death caused by unlawful act or criminal neglect;
  • A death occurring in a suspicious, unusual or unexplained manner;
  • A death while unattended by a physician, so far as can be discovered, or where no physician able to certify the cause of death as provided in the public health law and in form as prescribed by the commissioner of health can be found;
  • A death of a person confined in a public institution other than a hospital, infirmary or nursing home.

What to do when a loved one has passed?

A funeral director should be contacted as soon as possible. In accordance with state law, decedents must be released to a licensed funeral director. The Medical Examiner’s Office is prohibited from recommending funeral homes.

Does an autopsy need to be performed?

The Medical Examiner will determine to what extent an autopsy or external examination is necessary to determine cause and manner of death.  A decision will be made after all medical records and investigative reports have been reviewed. 

If an autopsy or external examination of the body is not required, then the deceased will be released directly to the funeral home of your choice.  If you need additional time to select a funeral home, your loved one will be transported by the Medical Examiner Transporter to Samaritan Medical Center until you have made a selection.   

Where will the autopsy or external examination be performed?

Autopsies are usually performed at Samaritan Medical Center (SMC), 830 Washington St, Watertown, NY.  The deceased will remain at SMC until the Medical Examiner authorizes release to the funeral home of your choice. 

If the Jefferson County Medical Examiner is not available, arrangements will be made with a Forensic Pathologist in another county.  This process will be discussed with the next-of-kin prior to transport.

Is it necessary for the family to come to the Medical Examiner’s Office to view the body?

No. In a majority of cases, visual identification at our office is not required. If visual identification is required, you will be notified by the Medical Examiner’s Office.

Do you need consent from next-of-kin to perform an autopsy?

No. Examinations (when deemed necessary by the Medical Examiner) do not require consent from the next-of-kin. 

Can I object to having an autopsy performed?

Yes. However, since there is usually a unique set of circumstances surrounding each decedent, and certain Medical Examiner autopsies are required by law, the process for requesting objections may vary.

The next-of-kin, or his/her representative, who wishes to object, must speak with the Medical Examiner’s Office, and they will review the request on a case-by-case basis. If allowed a Statement of Opposition to Autopsy Form must be completed.  

Does the Medical Examiner’s Office perform autopsies on non-Medical Examiner cases?

No.  Deaths from natural causes certified by a hospitalist or primary care physician do not fall under the Medical Examiner’s jurisdiction.  The Jefferson County Medical Examiner does not perform private autopsies.  

Is there a fee for an autopsy/external examination?

No. Autopsies authorized by the Medical Examiner’s Office are conducted at Jefferson County’s expense.  There are no fees for transports until the decedent is released from the Medical Examiner’s Office.     

How long will it take before the body is released from the Medical Examiner?

Depending on the time of day the deceased is received by the Medical Examiner’s Office, they may be released the same day, or the next day. In rare cases in deaths that require further investigation, the deceased may be held for additional time. It is our goal to release all decedents within 24 hours of arrival.

Can there be an open casket after autopsy?

An autopsy does not prohibit viewing.  However, you should discuss this with your funeral director as the circumstances surrounding the death must be taken into consideration.   

Is tissue/organ donation an option for my loved one?

The Medical Examiner’s Office supports efforts to promote organ and tissue donation. Only the next-of-kin can grant permission to the organ procurement agency for organ or tissue donation. In rare instances, to protect certain forensic evidence, the Medical Examiner may have to disallow certain aspects of the organ or tissue procurement procedure.  You may receive a call from an organ or tissue procurement agency as the Medical Examiner’s Office will notify the procurement agency when appropriate. If you would like more information about donations you can visit

How do I obtain my loved one’s personal possessions?

All items *(some exclusions) accompanying a decedent, such as clothing, jewelry, etc. will be signed over to the funeral director, upon release of the body, for prompt return to the next-of-kin.  

*Exclusions may include:

  • Evidence pertaining to the case
  • Soiled items
  • Notes of intent
  • Medications

When will the Autopsy/Toxicology report be available?

It typically takes two (2) to three (3) months for an autopsy report to be completed; however, each case varies. An official autopsy report will not be available until all toxicology, histology and other testing has been concluded. 

Who can request an Autopsy report?

For more information, please view the Autopsy Report Request Tab.

Where can I obtain a Death Certificate? Who can request one?

There are multiple ways to obtain a death certificate:

  1. Your funeral director may be able to obtain a copy for you.
  2. You may obtain a copy of the death certificate from the Registrar’s Office in the town or village where the death occurred.
  3. You may also obtain a copy of the death certificate from New York State Vital Statistics at

Note:  The Jefferson County Medical Examiner’s Office does not issue death certificates.

What does it mean when a death certificate reads ‘pending’?

Death certificates will state “pending” when laboratory studies or further investigations is needed to determine the cause and/or manner of death. This does not prevent the body from being released to the funeral home.  

Are support groups available to help ourselves/family?

This is a difficult time and resources are available in the community. The following agencies that offer support may be contacted:

The Compassionate Friends: Supporting Family After a Child Dies

Contact: (315) 788-4592

Left Behind By Suicide Support Group: Hospice of Jefferson County

Contact: (315)788-7323

Bereavement Evening Support Group: Hospice of Jefferson County

Contact: (315) 788-7323

Bereavement Day Support Group: Hospice of Jefferson County

Contact: (315)788-7323

211 Central and Northern New York

What if I need a Biohazard Cleanup Agency?

If you are in need of a biohazard cleanup agency due to the circumstances surrounding the death,  below is a list of local and national agencies: 

Servpro of Jefferson County 

800 Starbuck Ave

Ste B-4

Watertown, NY 13601

(680) 210-3848

Servicemaster Of Watertown

700 Mill St.

Watertown, Ny 13601

(315) 300-1684

Advanced Bio-Treatment

(800) 295-1684

Aftermath Inc.

(877) 686-3205

Bio Cleaners

(855) 854-2510

The Medical Examiner's Office brochure: "Information for Families" can be found here. 

Other Questions?

If you have any further questions, please feel free to contact the Medical Examiner’s Office at 

(315) 786-3755.