U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

New Method for Measuring Human Decomposition Could Significantly Impact Medicolegal Death Investigations

NCJ Number
Date Published
April 2021

This article presents improving postmortem interval estimation with standardized and simplified protocols that could significantly impact medicolegal death investigations by providing more accurate and reliable data for determining time since death.


In a criminal trial that involves a death, it often is critical to know when the person died. But law enforcement and medical examiner communities need more accurate and standardized methods, with known error rates, to estimate time since death.

To improve those standards, a National Institute of Justice-supported research team from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, designed and demonstrated a new method for estimating time since death (postmortem interval) that builds on the commonly used Megyesi, et al. method for measuring human decomposition. The new method calculates a decedent’s total body score — a number that correlates to observed human decomposition stages — by summing decomposition scores from 16 regions of the body instead of three.

Date Published: April 1, 2021