Frequently Asked Questions
No. Autopsies performed under the Washoe County Regional Medical Examiner’s jurisdiction are free of charge. Cases referred to the Washoe County Regional Medical Examiner's Office from other counties incur fees which are the responsibility of the referring county.
Autopsy and examination reports are not considered to be public records in the vast majority of cases per a recent Nevada Supreme Court decision. Generally, only family members of a decedent are able to receive a copy of the report unless the requestor can prove there is a significant public interest and demonstrate how the report will advance that interest.
Records, when available, will be transmitted via secure e-mail. Please note that examination reports generally take between 10 and 12 weeks to complete. Reports will not be released if they are pending further investigation or are part of an ongoing legal proceeding.
Please note that we do not have any records for deaths that occurred in Clark County (Las Vegas).
Unfortunately, do to our high caseload, we aren't able to offer internships or interviews for people interested in becoming a medical examiner or death investigator. The National Association of Medical Examiners (NAME) has a great paper on what is required to get into our field of work. You can find it here.
The Washoe County Regional Medical Examiner's Office does not issue Death Certificates.
Death Certificates, when completed, may be obtained through the Washoe County Health District's Vital Records Office. Click the logo below to be taken to the Vital Records Office website.
Depending on the circumstances of death and type of investigation, Death Certificates may require ten to twelve weeks for completion.
Medical Examiners and Coroners are distinct titles referring to individuals who complete somewhat similar or overlapping roles, but have very different histories and current-day training and qualifications.
Coroners have existed for centuries, with the term originally referring to the "Crowner", whose job was to ensure that upon death the appropriate taxes were paid to the King (Crown). Modern coroners inquire into the cause and manner of a death, and often complete the death certificate. Across the U.S., coroners are usually elected laypersons who may or may not have medical training, depending on local statutes. Coroners may also be appointed, again depending on statutes, and may also have roles such as law enforcement or prosecuting attorney. Coroners are frequently not pathologists, and therefore must obtain the services of a forensic pathologist, often by contract, for autopsies and medical expertise to support the coroner's investigations. In this region, the Sheriff and Sheriff’s deputies serve as coroners in the rural California and Nevada counties and refer cases for postmortem examinations at the Washoe County Regional Medical Examiner's Office. Our office serves 13 Nevada and 5 California counties.
Medical Examiner systems, by contrast, usually do not include a Coroner. Medical Examiners are generally not elected, but appointed to their positions, and are always physicians, usually forensic pathologists, who have specialized training in death investigation. Medical Examiners can manage a medicolegal death investigation office, perform death investigations, complete autopsies, interpret toxicology and other laboratory testing results, collect and document evidence, and provide expert testimony. The Medical Examiner system therefore is considered by many to be a modern, streamlined approach to death investigation, and the likely future trend of death investigation in the U.S. Over half of the U.S. population is currently served by Medical Examiner systems.
Washoe County converted its Coroner system to a Medical Examiner system in 2007, by county ordinance. Nevada Revised Statutes require that each county have a Coroner, but leave the details of the death investigation system to the counties to determine. The Washoe County Chief Medical Examiner also holds the appointed title of Coroner; however, the office functions as a Medical Examiner office.
The cause of death is the specific injury or disease that leads to death.
The manner of death is the determination of how the injury or disease leads to death. There are five manners of death (natural, accident, suicide, homicide, and undetermined).
A Forensic Pathologist is a licensed medical doctor who, following medical school, has completed additional post-graduate residency training in pathology (Anatomic Pathology, or Anatomic and Clinical Pathology) and a post-graduate fellowship training program in Forensic Pathology. The entire period of education and training for a Forensic Pathologist following high school is currently a minimum of 13 years (4-year college degree, 4-year medical school degree, 4-year residency, 1-year fellowship). After completion of residency and fellowship training, a pathologist is eligible to sit for examinations offered by the American Board of Pathology (ABP). Following successful completion of the various subject-area exams, the pathologist becomes board-certified in those areas of expertise. Board certification is a marker of competence and training, and allows the public to be confident in the skills of the physician.
The Chief Medical Examiner and all other full-time or part-time forensic pathologists employed by the Washoe County Regional Medical Examiner's Office are certified by the American Board of Pathology in Anatomic Pathology and Forensic Pathology. Many also hold other ABP certifications such as Clinical Pathology.
The front office is staffed Monday through Friday from 8:30 am - 5:00 pm and is closed on all major holidays.
Investigators are on duty at all times.
Due to the sensitive nature of our work, we do not offer any internship or shadowing opportunities to members of the public.
The Washoe County Regional Medical Examiner's Office is located at 990 East Ninth Street in Reno, Nevada.
Personal effects collected during the investigation of a death are securely stored at the Washoe County Regional Medical Examiner's Office. Please contact our office to set up a time to pick up property.
Currency collected during the investigation of a death is deposited in a special bank account controlled by Washoe County. Upon request, a check for the full amount will be sent via mail. This process generally takes three to four weeks.
Only the legal next-of-kin may obtain personal effects and currency of a decedent. Photo identification must be presented for all personal effects and currency releases.
Due to the sensitive nature of our work, we do not offer tours of our facility.
Toxicology is laboratory testing to identify what, if any, drugs or poisons are present in the body of a decedent. The tests are usually performed on blood or other body fluids but can also be performed on hair and tissue. Comprehensive testing usually requires approximately ten to twelve weeks for completion.
We do not allow viewings of decedents in our care.
To arrange a viewing, you will need to coordinate with the mortuary you choose to handle services.
An autopsy is a medical examination of the body performed after death. The term autopsy is derived from the Ancient Greek autopsia, which means “to see for oneself”. This specialized, detailed surgical procedure allows for an in-depth examination of every organ system in the body, with the goals of documenting disease and injury, collection of evidence and specimens for additional testing, and ultimately, determining the cause of death. All of the procedures during an autopsy are conducted with great care in order to preserve the appearance of the deceased person, and to minimize alterations of the body. Following a typical autopsy, the body of the deceased can still be embalmed and viewed during funerary rites. All incisions made during the autopsy are closed, and can be hidden by clothing and typical casket accoutrements during open-casket funerals.
Forensic Pathology is a subspecialty of pathology focusing on disease and injury, death, and the intersection of medicine and the law. Forensic Pathologists conduct forensic autopsies, interpret the results of toxicology and other ancillary testing, and provide expert testimony in courts of law. Forensic Pathologists contribute to public health and safety through disease surveillance, statistical reporting, product safety reporting, and in aiding the successful prosecution of violent crimes.
A Medical Examiner is a physician, usually a Forensic Pathologist. The Medical Examiner’s primary responsibility is the certification of the cause and manner of death, based on his/her expert opinion following an investigation. The investigation may range from a review of medical records, to a complete autopsy with extensive laboratory testing, which often includes toxicology (testing for drugs, alcohol, or poisons). The report of the Medical Examiner documents the findings of the investigation, examination, and laboratory testing, and the final conclusions of the Medical Examiner (usually summed up in an Opinion). The Medical Examiner works with a team of other key individuals who assist in various ways with the investigation, administrative tasks, and autopsies. These individuals include Forensic Autopsy Technicians, Medicolegal Death Investigators, Office Specialists, Transcriptionists, and Administrators. At the Washoe County Regional Medical Examiner's Office, the management team for the office consists of the Chief Medical Examiner/Coroner, the Operations Manager, and three Medicolegal Death Investigator/Technician Supervisors.
A Medicolegal Death Investigator/Technician, also sometimes referred to as a Forensic Investigator/Technician, is a trained individual who responds to the scene of death for the purpose of performing an investigation into why the person died and collecting any evidence directly related to death (such as prescription medications). Investigators often have a four-year college degree, and may have other relevant experience in medical fields such as emergency medical technician/paramedic or law enforcement. Specialized degree programs now exist across the U.S. offering undergraduate and Master’s degrees in forensic sciences, with some beginning to offer focus in biomedical/death investigation areas. Certification for death investigators is available from the American Board of Medicolegal Death Investigators (ABMDI). All of the full-time Investigator/Technicians at the Washoe County Regional Medical Examiner's Office have ABMDI registry or fellow level certifications, and many of the part-time Investigators are certified or are working toward certification. All Investigator/Technicians in the Washoe County Regional Medical Examiner's Office are dual-trained as Forensic Autopsy Technicians, and can also assist the Forensic Pathologists during autopsies.
The National Association of Medical Examiners’ Forensic Autopsy Performance Standards indicate that a forensic autopsy will be performed when:
- The death is known or suspected to have been caused by apparent criminal violence.
- The death is unexpected and unexplained in an infant or child.
- The death is associated with police action.
- The death is apparently non-natural and in custody of a local, state, or federal institution.
- The death is due to acute workplace injury.
- The death is caused by apparent electrocution.
- The death is by apparent intoxication by alcohol, drugs, or poison, unless a significant interval has passed (while hospitalized), and the medical findings and absence of trauma are well-documented.
- The death is caused by unwitnessed or suspected drowning.
- The body is unidentified and the autopsy may aid in identification.
- The body is skeletonized.
- The body is charred.
- The forensic pathologist deems a forensic autopsy is necessary to determine cause and/or manner of death, or document injuries/disease, or collect evidence.
- The deceased is involved in a motor vehicle incident and an autopsy is necessary to document injuries and/or determine the cause of death.
An autopsy is not generally necessary when the death is known to be the result of known medical conditions/diseases (ie, natural causes), adequate medical history exists, and there are no signs of foul play. In some cases, a detailed external examination may be sufficient to document injuries in cases with no pending legal issues associated. A detailed external examination in lieu of autopsy may also be used to exclude the possibility of injuries in elderly persons who die outside of the care of a physician, with no signs of foul play, and in whom it is unreasonable to perform an autopsy due to age or the objection of the next-of-kin to autopsy.