Budget cuts in coroners’ offices are hampering police investigations and delaying release of death certificates, leaving families in limbo as they await results of a loved one’s autopsy, says USA Today. Coroners and medical examiners in states such as California, Florida and Utah report the delays mean longer waits for DNA results in rape and child molestation cases and for ballistic results in homicide cases. For families, death certificates are classified as pending, delaying insurance claims and executing the will.
Medical examiners are “suffering along with other areas of public service,” says Jeffrey Jentzen, president of the National Association of Medical Examiners. “When you stop funding it, … cases can be missed.” Most medical examiner offices are funded by tax dollars, so when property values or revenue shrink “it puts an incredible strain” on them, says Jentzen, deputy medical examiner in Washtenaw County, Mich. Rural areas have been hurt particularly hard, he says. For example, Catoosa County, Ga., Coroner Vanita Hullander often waits eight months for toxicology reports on cases such as accidental drug overdoses, up from three to six months a few years ago.