Governor Signs Jackson Bill To Increase Public Confidence in Autopsies

September 28, 2016

SACRAMENTO – A bill jointly authored by Dr. Richard Pan (D-Sacramento) and Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara) to ensure autopsies are conducted only by licensed physicians and forensic autopsy reports are accurate and unbiased has just been signed by Governor Jerry Brown.

Jackson jointly authored SB 1189 following the discovery in 2015 that a number of autopsies were done at the Ventura County Medical Examiner’s office by non-physicians while the then-Medical Examiner was on vacation. 

“This bill takes an important step toward clarifying current law and restoring public trust in autopsies, and I’m very pleased that the Governor has signed it into law,” said Jackson. “My hope is that this bill helps ensure that the very distressing experience some families had with the Ventura County Medical Examiner’s office last year is never again repeated.”

“SB 1189 builds public confidence and ensures accurate autopsy reports, which provide critical pieces of information in determining the cause and manner of death,” said Pan. “Not only do families deserve to know what happened to their loved ones, but the public and juries need to trust that they received accurate objective information to make the correct verdict on a criminal case.”

Senate Bill 1189 requires a forensic autopsy to be conducted only by a licensed physician or surgeon and defines such autopsies as a medical examination to determine cause of death. Recent amendments would allow trained county personnel, under the supervision of a physician or a coroner, to take blood, urine or vitreous samples for the purpose of crime scene investigations.

Additionally, under the bill, if law enforcement personnel were directly involved with the custody of an individual and that person died in their care, they would not be allowed inside the autopsy room during the performance of the autopsy.  Further, the bill requires police reports, crime scene photos and videos or other information that is in the possession of law enforcement be made available to the medical examiner prior to the completion of the death investigation.

Jackson has also separately requested that the California Medical Board, the state agency that licenses doctors, investigates complaints and disciplines those who violate the law, conduct an investigation and take appropriate action against the former Ventura County Medical Examiner, Dr. Jon Smith, as well as any staff who have conducted procedures or an autopsy without having the training or license to do so.

Jackson represents the 19th Senate District, which includes all of Santa Barbara County and western Ventura County.