The Caution of Suicide Rulings

suicide hangingBy:  Darren Dake

Suicide by its very nature can cause a lot of trepidation to the death investigator. Family stigma, insurance issues, and privacy are all key  concerns in making a ruling of suicide. The investigator is called upon to provide factual information which will assist in deciding whether the death in question is murder, suicide, or accident. Since most injuries can be found in all three manners of death, the successful solution of the problem must depend largely on the investigator’s experience and the cache of information available.

 In the absence of eyewitness, a conclusion of suicide is drawn only after a careful study of the type of injury, the presence of the weapon or instrument of death, the existence of motive and the elimination of a theory of murder, accident, or natural causes.

 Keep in mind that because  of the key concerns noted above, family members finding the body will often times try to hide evidence or withhold information.  In cases of auto-erotic deaths, especially by teens, parents will  often remove any erotica in the scene prior to your arrival.  Also, families will not come to terms with suicide very easily and will push for a broader investigation. This is why it’s important, when making a ruling of suicide, that it is ruled based upon facts and the elimination of all other manners.

 In my experience the ruling of suicide is made only after all reports are completed and only with the agreement of all agencies involved, including coroners, medical examiners, police, ems, etc. All parties need to have a say, and you as the ruling investigator, will do well by coming to a joint consensus. This accomplishes two things; first, it insures that all experience and knowledge present is used in the determination and second, it allows for a spread of liability so-to-speak, this way no one person can be accused of a wrong determination.

About the Author
Darren is a 30 year veteran of law enforcement and criminal investigations. He currently serves as an investigator for the Crawford County Missouri coroner’s office. He holds credentials as an instructor for the Missouri Sheriff’s Training Academy, has served as president of the Missouri Medical Examiners and Coroners Association, and is certified and credentialed in numerous fields of investigation. He holds the position of lead instructor and facilitator for the Coroner Talk™ community as he speaks and writes in the area of death investigation and scene management.

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