RTI uses cookies to offer you the best experience online. By clicking “accept” on this website, you opt in and you agree to the use of cookies. If you would like to know more about how RTI uses cookies and how to manage them please view our Privacy Policy here. You can “opt out” or change your mind by visiting: http://optout.aboutads.info/. Click “accept” to agree.

Focus Areas

Medicolegal Death Investigations

Supporting medicolegal death investigations and the wellbeing of the MDI workforce through analysis, evaluation, and training and technical assistance

Medicolegal death investigations (MDIs) are performed on unnatural and unexpected deaths, and the information collected through these investigations informs both public health and public safety. They also can provide important information to families of the decedents, such as information about a decedent’s identification, the cause of death, and other specifics about the details of a death. 

RTI experts work to enhance the tools available to those performing MDIs. These tools include providing training and technical assistance, analysis of new and emerging technologies, and evaluation of practices, as well as working to enhance, understand, and make use of the data provided by the MDI professionals.  

The information provided by the medical examiner and coroner communities, and others who perform these specialized investigations—including forensic pathologists, medicolegal death investigators, forensic toxicologists, and forensic anthropologists—can have important effects on policies and practices. Their findings can shed light on unsafe procedures or identify new and emerging diseases or trends in deaths, such as the opioid epidemic. The results from MDIs also affect decisions being made within criminal legal systems, such as a determination that a death is at the hand of another, or conversely is due to natural causes.  

Despite the importance of this work, many agencies are under-resourced and untrained, which can result in a loss of opportunities to collect vital evidence and information that informs public safety and public health. RTI collaborates with this community to further their ability to positively contribute to justice and health systems, as well as the friends and family of decedents. 

Project Highlights

The Census of Medical Examiner and Coroner Offices

The Census of Medical Examiner and Coroner Offices (CMEC) focuses on the medicolegal death investigation system in the United States, providing a national picture of medical examiner and coroner offices, including personnel, expenditures, workload, capabilities and procedures, and resource needs. RTI is leading the development of the 2023 CMEC, as well as data collection efforts in partnership with BJS. The goal of the project—which will collect data from more than 2,100 medical examiner and coroner offices across the country—is to provide improved information on the capabilities of medical examiners and coroners, the types of data systems and record retention procedures used, and the resource needs of these offices.

National Forensic Laboratory Information System

Since 1997, RTI has been contracted to develop and administer the National Forensic Laboratory Information System (NFLIS), a database that includes results of drug analyses conducted by nearly 300 state and local forensic laboratories, representing approximately 1.5 million drug reports each year. Substances analyzed reflect drug evidence secured by law enforcement operations nationwide. The NFLIS program recently expanded to include ante- and postmortem toxicological results from public and private toxicology laboratories and medical examiner and coroner offices. 

National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs)

The National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs) is an online repository and resource center designed to address missing, unidentified, and unclaimed persons cases nationwide. NamUs provides analytical and forensic services, including dental and fingerprint analysis, traditional DNA testing, forensic genetic genealogy, and anthropological services. These services are offered at no cost to law enforcement, medical examiners, coroners, and allied forensic professionals. RTI manages the program through a contract with NIJ. Medical examiner and coroner offices are often tasked with resolving unidentified human remains cases while also taking ownership of unclaimed human remains. Long-term unidentified human remains cases pose several challenges to identification, including decomposition, a lack of antemortem record availability, and limitations in data sharing across jurisdictions. NamUs provides the tools and resources necessary to identify these cases, locate next of kin, and bridge information gaps between jurisdictions to assist medical examiner and coroner offices in the identification of unknown decedents. 

Working Group on Data Exchange in Medicolegal Death Investigation

This working group (MDI-Data-WG) led by RTI through the NIJ’s Forensic Technology Center of Excellence in partnership with CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics, is a diverse assembly of MDI professionals and ancillary professionals working to document and provide recommendations to enhance data exchange and collection in death investigations. MDI-Data-WG gains insight from medical examiners, coroners, forensic investigators, epidemiologists, public health analysts, researchers, crime laboratory directors, law enforcement, federal agencies, toxicologists, and forensic pathologists acting as members, observers, and facilitators. The goals of this working group are to 1) document the types of data that are commonly exchanged with public health and public safety partners and determine collective usage points, 2) provide suggestions on how to improve the naming process for emerging drugs, 3) guide the drug mapping/classification process, and 4) recommend needed enhancements to the operation of exchanging forensic data with other organizations.

Medicolegal Death Investigator (MDI) Health and Wellness

RTI conducted a two-part study to examine MDIs’ experiences of work-related stress, trauma, and organizational supports through a national survey. This survey aimed to understand how stress and trauma manifest among MDIs and to identify moderators in the relationship between exposures to stress and trauma and health and well-being outcomes. We also implemented a mixed-methods impact study to test the effectiveness of a mindfulness intervention to reduce the effects of work-related stress and trauma on this workforce.