Q: Can we be denied the autopsy report if my loved one died in custody of the state?
A: The information below is a general statement regarding autopsy reports. There are forms on the Arkansas State Crime Lab Website that may assist you in obtaining the report. Typically, once the autopsy report is released to Law Enforcement Officials the information is public and you can use the rules of the FOIA to obtain the records.
Ordinarily the Crime Lab will give family members a copy unless the case is still under investigation or there is other good reasons for secrecy; i.e., manner of death is unknown, the body is dangerous to the public, releasing the information could hinder or harm others, etc.
I would complete the proper forms on the Crime Lab website and see what happens.
Autopsy reports prepared by the State Medical Examiner are not considered medical records; however, these records are confidential under Ark. Code Ann. § 12-12-312(a) so long as they remain in the possession of the state crime lab. Once they leave the custody of the crime lab, however, the reports are subject to the FOIA unless another exemption, such as the act’s law enforcement exemption, Ark. Code Ann. § 25-19-105(b)(6), is applicable. See Ark. Op. Att’y Gen. Nos. 2001-100, 99-110, 97-294, 87-353. If the autopsy report is prepared by someone other than the State Medical Examiner, the crime lab confidentiality statute would not apply. Ark. Op. Att’y Gen. Nos. 97-294 (autopsy report that was never in possession of crime lab is subject to disclosure), 87-135 (autopsy report of coroner qualified to conduct post mortem tests is available under FOIA unless otherwise exempted).
Records gathered and created during the course of a coroner’s investigation are exempt until the coroner’s final report is issued. However, medical information remains exempt, except as quoted in the final report. Ark. Code Ann. § 14-15-304.
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