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Every state has laws that require official investigation of deaths involving certain types of circumstances. In general, these include deaths that are thought to result from injury or poisoning (such as homicide, suicide, and accidental deaths), and those deaths that are sudden, unexpected, and not readily explainable at the time of death. The Fulton County Medical Examiner's Office is the agency that performs these duties for Fulton County, and is located at the Fulton County Medical Examiner's Center (FCMEC) at 430 Pryor St SW, Atlanta, Georgia.

The Georgia Death Investigation Act contains the laws which describe procedures for official investigation of death in Georgia. Each county has an official who is responsible for investigating deaths covered by the Act. Until 1965, the official responsible for death investigations in each of the 159 counties was an elected coroner. In 1965, Fulton County became the first county in Georgia to abolish the office of Coroner, and established in its place the appointed office of
Medical Examiner. Since that time, DeKalb, Cobb, and Gwinnett Counties have done the same.

In Fulton County, the Medical Examiner must be a physician with special training in pathology, because the performance of autopsies and other postmortem examinations is an important part of the death investigation process.

Because deaths occur around the clock, the FCME is staffed 24 hours per day 365 days per year. A total of 36 employees carry out the needed duties of the office, which investigates approximately 2500 deaths per year. The typical sequence of events in a death is:

  • A death is reported to the office
  • We assess whether we have legal authority and duty to investigate
  • The death scene is visited and investigated, if needed
  • Investigative information is obtained about the deceased's medical and social history, and other information surrounding the events that led to death
  • The body is transported to the FCMEC, if examination is needed
  • If the deceased is unidentified, efforts are made to positively identify the deceased
  • A postmortem examination is performed (external examination or autopsy), if needed, at which time necessary specimens are obtained for laboratory tests and potential evidence is collected
  • An official report of findings is prepared
  • The death certificate is completed
  • Permanent records are kept for future use as needed, such as testimony at trials involving criminal or civil matters, or the processing of insurance or worker's compensation claims and other matters


The main purpose of the FCMEC is to determine the cause and manner of death, and to clarify the circumstances surrounding death. Cause of death has to do with determining which disease or injury actually caused death.   Manner of death is a classification in which attempts are made to determine whether death resulted from natural causes (such as disease or old age), homicide, suicide, or accidental injury or poisoning. Information collected during the investigation may also help clarify the circumstances, such as the sequence of events prior to death, or the collection evidence that may lead to the arrest of a suspect in a homicide case.

Although the major purpose of the FCMEC is to conduct death investigations, the information obtained from individual death investigations may also be studied collectively to gather information that may be used to address public health and safety issues. For example, FCME information was used to publish the first report of deaths among homeless individuals, and is now used as a model for monitoring deaths among the homeless in other parts of the country. Dozens of other scientific reports have also been published which advance knowledge in the disciplines of death investigation and public health. Recently, FCMEC information has been used as part of a study of pedestrian fatalities in Fulton County being conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. When a sudden death is discovered to be caused by an infectious communicable disease, prompt notification of the health department by the FCMEC may be critical in the identification of other people at risk and prevention or treatment of disease. Or, autopsy may show the presence of a disease that can run in families and allow for proper diagnosis and treatment in surviving family members. Thus, the FCME not only performs specific death investigations, but contributes to the advancement of health and science, as well.

The FCMEC also has a strong affiliation with academic institutions. Internship experience is provided to students at local colleges and universities with programs in criminal justice. A Forensic Pathology training program trains pathologists to become forensic pathologists and medical examiners, and is offered in affiliation with Emory University School of Medicine. Professional staff members form the FCMEC have been directly involved in national projects geared toward the development of death investigation guidelines and other professional standards. Thus, the FCMEC is involved in education on a daily basis, and in professional development on an ongoing basis.

 
 

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Fulton County Medical Examiner

430 Pryor Street SW
Atlanta, Georgia 30312
Phone: 404-613-4400
Fax: 404-613-2463
email: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

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