Difference between common and
Common witness: A common
witness is one that is involved in the trial of a crime that is committed,
either through association with the suspect, victim, or has been a witness to
the crime itself. The facts presented by such a witness are based purely on
association, not on their expert opinion on the legalities of the case itself.
Thus, the witness is only meant to give their truthful account of the crime
itself under oath. The witness can often be swayed by either the defense or the
prosecution to vouch for one side or the other. The use of such a witness is
often common in establishing the personality of the suspect in question, thus
can help the jury establish the suspect’s motive.
Expert witness: In contrast,
an expert witness holds specialized knowledge in the education field that is
being discussed in a case. These sorts of witnesses are extremely necessary for
when a case is being discussed with relation to knowledge that is not readily
available to an average person. The expert witness is meant to provide evidence
in accordance with court rules, and must give a copy of their report to both
sides of a dispute. An expert witness cannot be an advocate and argue for one
only legal representatives have the power to advocate one’s case. For
example, a doctor can be an expert witness in a case involving medicine.
Difference between medicolegal
and pathological autopsy:
Medicolegal autopsy: A postmortem examination may be necessary in certain deaths that come up
for inquests in order to properly establish a cause of death. In these
situations the authority which conducts the inquest will order a doctor to
perform a postmortem examination (medico-legal autopsy). To perform a
medico-legal autopsy, consent from the relatives of the deceased is not
required. In an unexpected sudden death, only a doctor after a postmortem
examination may be able to determine the cause of death. However, it is often
wrongly assumed that the objective of a postmortem examination is only to
ascertain the cause of death. Medicolegal autopsy is performed with the aim of
providing answers to questions about the identity, cause of death, time of
death, circumstances of death, etc, thus helping the law enforcing agencies to
solve the crime. Although the procedure of both the autopsies is same, they
differ from each other in many aspects. A medico legal death is one which is
not natural or doubtful. As a dictum, all unattended, undiagnosed, unidentified
and un-natural deaths are considered as medico legal. 1
Pathological autopsy: Clinical autopsy,
loosely termed as pathological autopsy, is carried out to diagnose the disease
which has caused the mortality when ante-mortem efforts have failed. Many a
times clinical autopsy is done despite the cause of death having been
established ante mortem, to study the disease process in situ, thus enriching
medical knowledge. Tissue and findings from pathological
autopsies may be used in order to educate clinicians, residents, and medical
students about diseases and causes of death.
Describe protocols of
Normally, a decedent’s body is
the property of the next of kin (spouse, child, parent, brother or sister,
nearest relative, guardian or executor of the estate). However, in deaths that
are unusual, unnatural or suspicious in nature the state has an overriding
interest which supersedes the interests of the family. When the cause and
manner of death cannot be established at the death scene an autopsy is
required. A death case with an obvious cause and manner of death may require an
autopsy for legal documentation. In such cases, knowledge of specific mechanics
of death are desired; e.g.; determination of fatal wounds, contribution of any
natural disease to the cause of death and the elapsed time between the moment
of fatal injury and
A. Step 1: Preliminary Procedures.
This includes the taking of detailed notes of the post-mortem. The date, time,
location and circumstances of the autopsy are recorded. The prosector(s),
witnesses and other personnel are identified. Also, any special item, such as
embalming information is noted.
B. Step 2: Summary of Known
Circumstances. This a short, concise version of the known facts about the
decedent. It will generally contain the victim’s age, race and sex. It will
have a brief description of the death scene and the circumstances in which the
victim’s body was found. Also, it may contain information pertaining to the
victim’s last known activities or plans if known.
C. Step 3: Documents Reviewed And/or
Evidence Examined. At a minimum the pathologist may review reports of
investigation or conversations with official personnel that pertain to the
victim’s death. Evidence obtained at the death scene involving a known, or
potential interest, to criminal justice agencies is generally beneficial to the
pathologist. For example, a knife recovered from the body of a stabbing victim
would be of interest to the pathologist. It would be instrumental in
determining if wounds and injuries found on the body could have been made by
the suspect knife.
D. Step 4: External Examination of
Body. Space precludes a comprehensive list of everything involved in the
external examination. However, the following is generally examined, or noted,
during this phase of the autopsy: The victim’s clothing; and inventory of
jewelry, valuables and evidence recovered; body weight and length; presence of
algor, rigor or livor mortis; general condition of the body; description of the
color and condition of head and body hair, examination of the nose and mouth to
include dental examination; external condition of body areas to include the
breasts, genitalia, ears and skin; any scars or incisions; any puncture marks
to include those of needles; and, specific injuries noted, such as stab wounds,
gunshot wounds or blunt instrument injuries. Algor mortis is the post-mortem
loss of heat from the body. Livor mortis is the post-mortem discoloration
caused by the settling of blood to the lowest parts of the body. Rigor mortis
is the post-mortem stiffening of the body musculature as a result of chemical
changes in the dying muscles.
E. Step 5: Victim Identification
Procedures. The following procedures will normally be applied in all cases
where the identity of the victim is unknown. They may also be appropriate in
cases where the victim’s identity is probable but cannot be determined through
visual means; e.g., victim’s facial features have been altered or destroyed by
injury. The general procedures include the following: · Fingerprints · Dental
examination · X-rays (Note: Circumstances may result in X-rays being taken
prior to the external examination.) · Photographing victim (Note: External
scars or tattoos may be instrumental in identifying an unknown victim.)
F. Step 6: Internal Examination of
Body. A visual evaluation by the pathologist provides a general gross
description of body organs, to include weight, appearance and any abnormality
or injury observed. Every organ of the body is examined and the results
recorded during this phase. The heart, liver, lungs, and pancreas are a few of
the organs examined during this phase. Refer to the sample autopsy for a
specific list of organs examined and the recorded descriptions.
G. Step 7: General Description of
Body Organs. This phase is often incorporated into Step 6 – Internal
Examination of Body. A key element of this phase of the autopsy protocol is to
compare the condition of organs as found with “normal” conditions.
For example, the pathologist may find the organ(s) is diseased or is of
abnormal weight, size or shape. This phase of the autopsy should include a
microscopic examination of tissue taken from the victim’s organs.
H. Step 8: Specific Description of
Wounds or Injuries. The pathologist should record descriptions of wounds or
injuries that are related to specific types of trauma. Among these are injuries
due to: · Handgun or rifle · Shotgun · Blunt force instrument · Fracture ·
Stabbing, cutting and penetrating instruments · Asphyxia, hanging, strangling
or drowning · Fire or burn, electrocution or lightning · Infant death, child
abuse or Sudden Infant Death Syndrome
I. Step 9: Establish Evidential
Chain-of-Custody. If the autopsy is related to a known criminal case, the
pathologist will normally turn the evidence over to law enforcement personnel.
In non-criminal cases; e.g., accidental deaths or suicides the evidence may be
turned over to the coroner. Regardless of who receives the evidence it is
essential to establish a chain-of-custody when evidentiary items/material or
collected during an autopsy.
J. Step 10: Record of Specimens
Retained and Examinations Performed. This phase of the autopsy will vary2
Explain various instruments of
autopsy and its uses:
Bone Saw: Amputations are
performed using bone saws, when necessary.
Breadknife: Can be used to dissect
organs for examination.
Enterotome: A specially
designed tool with a bulb end that is inserted into the hollow inside of the
gut or lumen. Once inside the intestine, the enterotome cuts down the length of
the organ. The shape of this device enables it to prevent any perforations of
the gut when the instrument is inside.
Hagedorn needle: used to sew
up the body with heavy twine after the autopsy is finished.
Hammer with hook and chisel:
The hammer is used with the chisel to separate the calvarium, from the lower
part of the skull. When locked in place, the hook helps pull the calvarium away
and creates a skull cap in order to aid in observing the brain directly.
Rib cutter: Smaller than a
bone saw, helps cut through the several ribs that prevent full view of the
Scalpel: a deep blade that
makes clean incisions and allows for precise access to the insides of the human
body. This can be used alongside a thoothed forecep, which allows a pathologist
to grip heavy organs for removal.
Death Investigation: Protocols and Practice
Crowder, S. ; Turvey, B.E.
Investigations: An Introduction, pp.221-259
2 Investigator’s Reports and Case Files Section 404