Human remains are treated as a separate and unique type of forensic evidence. An autopsy of the remains is completed to determine the cause and manner of any death that is violent, unusual or untimely. A forensic pathologist will examine the human remains (post-mortem examination) and consider death scene findings. The medical history of the individual may also be reviewed to help determine if the death was natural, accidental or criminal. During the exam, the pathologist may recover critical evidence such as a bullet, which may help to determine the cause and manner of death. Furthermore, the pathologist may identify a wound pattern that can be matched to a weapon or can determine entry and exit wounds in deaths involving firearms and other projectiles.
To better equip forensic pathologists, more research is needed in the use of virtual autopsy as an alternative to traditional post-mortem exams. NIJ is focusing its funding on research and development into the use of forensic virtual autopsy as a tool in executing a thorough post-mortem examination — whether used in concert with standard gross autopsy or as a stand-alone tool. More research is also needed to develop better methods to estimate time since death and to determine the cause and manner of death, especially in children and the elderly (learn more at Identifying Elder Abuse).