Medicolegal Death Investigations On Tribal Lands—Underrepresented Or Underserved?

Medicolegal Death Investigations On Tribal Lands—Underrepresented Or Underserved?


Forensic Science International: Synergy, May 2024 


Jeri D. Ropero-Miller, Ph.D. | RTI International 
Wayne J. Pitts, Ph.D. | RTI International 
Anum Imran, BS | RTI International 
Ronny A. Bell, Ph.D. | University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill 
Hope M. Smiley-McDonald, Ph.D. | RTI International 


Death investigation on tribal lands and of American Indian/Alaska Native (AIAN) people is complex and not well documented. An analysis of data from the 2018 Census of Medical Examiner and Coroner Offices (CMEC) provides a timely update on the extent of medicolegal death investigations (MDIs) on federal and state-recognized tribal lands. An estimated 150 MEC offices serve tribal lands, however, 44% of these offices (i.e., 4% of MEC offices) do not track cases from tribal lands separately. MEC offices with a population of 25,000 to 250,000 that serve tribal lands had more resources and access to information to perform MDIs than all other MEC offices. Analysis also indicates that the median number of unidentified human remains cases from MECs serving tribal lands is 6 times higher than that of jurisdictions not serving tribal lands. This analysis begins to elucidate gaps in the nation’s understanding of MDI on tribal lands. 

Funding for this Forensic Technology Center of Excellence article was provided by the National Institute of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice. 

The opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this report are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Department of Justice. 

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