About the Medical Examiner

Commonwealth of Virginia

Virginia became one of the first states to institute a statewide medical examiner system in 1946. In that year, the General Assembly of Virginia abolished the office of Coroner’s Physician and appointed a Chief Medical Examiner. Four years later, in 1950, the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner (OCME) became a division within the Virginia Department of Health.

In Virginia, medicolegal death investigators conduct a medicolegal death investigation, serving as the principal case investigator for deaths falling within the OCME statutory authority. The OCME receives the initial notification of death and determines if the death should come under the jurisdiction of the medical examiner. Local medical examiners may examine and sign the certificate of death on medical examiner cases not requiring an autopsy.  The OCME currently supports more than 140 local medical examiners throughout the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Pursuant to § 32.1-283 of the Code of Virginia, all of the following deaths are investigated by the OCME:

  • any death from trauma, injury, violence, or poisoning attributable to accident, suicide or homicide;
  • sudden deaths to persons in apparent good health or deaths unattended by a physician;
  • deaths of persons in jail, prison, or another correctional institution, or in police custody (this includes deaths from legal intervention);
  • deaths of persons receiving services in a state hospital or training center operated by the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services;
  • the sudden death of any infant; and
  • any other suspicious, unusual, or unnatural death.

When an autopsy is required, it is conducted in one of four district offices: Manassas, Norfolk, Richmond or Roanoke. Each district is staffed with Assistant Chief Medical Examiners who are board certified forensic pathologists, medicolegal death investigators, administrative and morgue personnel. The Chief Medical Examiner, Dr. William T. Gormley, is responsible for the overall operation of the state’s medical examiner system.

The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner (OCME) is committed to public safety and to public health. To promote public safety, OCME staff members testify to their findings in civil and criminal courts throughout the Commonwealth. The OCME advance public health through its investigations of deaths that present a hazard to Virginia’s citizens, such as emerging infections and bioterrorism. Public health is also supported through a well-established surveillance and fatality review program. The surveillance and fatality review program includes the State Child Fatality Review Team, the Maternal Mortality Review Team as well as family and intimate partner homicide surveillance projects and other surveillance programs.

The overall vision of the OCME is to provide efficient and effective medical examiner services to the citizens of the Commonwealth of Virginia. The OCME fulfills this vision by ensuring that it meets the full accreditation standards established by the National Association of Medical Examiners.