How Long Does an Autopsy Report Take?

There are certain circumstances in which the coroner’s office performs a forensic examination, including an autopsy, following a death. In addition to an autopsy, other types of testing can be required to ascertain the cause of death. For example, a comprehensive drug screen may be required as part of the medical examiner’s efforts to determine the cause of death.

If you find yourself in situation in which a loved one has passed and his or her remains have been transported to the coroner’s office, you undoubtedly have a number of questions. One of these questions likely is how long will it take to receive an autopsy report? There are a number of factors that come into play when it comes to determining how long it will take to obtain an autopsy report.

Coroner’s Investigation without Further Review and Testing

In many cases, the cause of death can be determined by the coroner via what essentially is a three-step process. This trio of steps are:

  • Review of the circumstances surrounding the death
  • Forensic examination or autopsy
  • Review of medical records

If that is all that proves necessary, a report regarding the cause of death is likely to be available from the coroner within 24 to 48 hours. At this time, the body is available for release, typically for transport to a funeral home. Shortly after this juncture, if no additional testing or investigation is required, a report will be issued nearly immediately.

California law establishes a 72-hour timeframe within which the body must be transported from the coroner’s office to a funeral home. The family of a deceased person usually makes arrangements with a funeral home to transport the body from a funeral home not long after the remains are taken into the custody of the coroner for a forensics examination.

If the remains are not collected within that 72-hour timeframe, the coroner’s office will charge a fee for storage of the remains. If a family cannot afford the services of a funeral, the state of California has a program through which the remains of a deceased loved one can be cremated at no cost. A family desiring to take advantage of this program submits an application via the coroner’s office where the forensics examination occurred.

Due to the number of forensic examinations performed through urban coroner’s offices in Southern California, there can be a delay in undertaking and concluding even review such as the one outlined here. A backup in cases can cause a coroner’s report in this type of situation to be delayed a matter of days.

Coroner’s Report with Further Review and Testing

If the review of the circumstances surrounding the death, the autopsy, and medical records does not provide a conclusive cause of death, the case is submitted for further testing. The most common type of additional testing is a drug screen to ascertain if some sort of drug caused the death.

This additional testing can take additional time. It is not uncommon for supplemental testing to take six weeks of even longer. As is the case with coroner’s offices, there are time when backups occur at the forensic laboratories responsible for undertaking this type of additional testing.

The report of this supplemental investigation is forwarded to the coroner’s office. The coroner’s staff reviews the report. Assuming that it does provide data to explain the cause of death, a final report is prepared and issued.

If you don’t receive a final report within four to six weeks after the case is submitted for further testing, contacting the coroner’s office in your county for an update. At the start of the forensic examination process, you likely will be provided with the name and contact information of the coroner’s office staff member who primarily will be responsible for your case. This will be the individual who will serve as your main contact throughout the process.

Contact Information for Southern California Coroner’s Offices

Los Angeles County Coroner’s Office

1104 North Mission Road
Los Angles, California 90033

(323) 343-0512

mec.lacounty.gov/

Orange County Coroner’s Office

1071 West Santa Ana Blvd.,
Santa Ana, California 92703

(714) 647-7400

www.ocsd.org

Riverside County Coroner’s Office

800 South Redlands
Perris, California 92570
951-443-2300

www.riversidesheriff.org/coroner

San Bernardino County Coroner’s Office

175 South Lena Road
San Bernardino, California 92415
(909) 387-2978

cms.sbcounty.gov/sheriff/Divisions/Coroner