Modern medicolegal death investigation has evolved into a discipline of forensic science using both forensic medical practitioners and forensic investigators. While the typical portrayal of the medicolegal death investigation in television programs, such as “CSI” and “Law and Order,” sometimes over-dramatizes contributions related to time frames and scientific techniques in solving crimes, the basic tenets of the work are more accurately portrayed than not.
Some television programs, such as “Dr. G, Medical Examiner” and “North Mission Road,” attempt a reality-based presentation of the field of medicolegal death investigation. They create reenactments and present actual investigators, forensic pathologist or anthropologist, who performs investigations in real cases without much dramatization. In either case, television has brought an increased public interest and at the same time, has increased public expectations regarding forensic investigations. The nature of modern death investigation includes social issues that extend beyond the crime scene and often impact everyone who is involved with the death.
Dr. Randy Hanzlick stated that death investigations carry broad societal importance for criminal justice and public health. The investigations provide evidence to convict the guilty and exonerate the innocent. Death investigation has an impact on judicial decisions involving incarceration and financial and professional status. Death investigations aid civil litigation as well, states Hanzlick. A thorough death investigation can uncover unsafe conditions that potentially could save the lives of other family members. These include sanitary or unhealthy living conditions as well as genetic abnormalities discovered at autopsy. Death investigation and forensics has expanded into the science of engineering looking into the causes and effects of design flaws, material defect or human error.