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Medical Examiner-Coroner's Reports

Published on: 6/19/2014 3:32 PM
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Death Certificates
The Santa Clara County Medical Examiner-Coroner’s Office does not issue Death Certificates to the general public. Although Certified copies of the Death Certificate may be obtained by family members at or near the date of death from the funeral director, all other requests for copies of Death Certificates should be made to either the Santa Clara County Department of Public Health, Vital Statistics Section, located at 976 Lenzen Avenue, San Jose, CA 95126, (408) 885-2010, or the Santa Clara County Recorder’s Office at 70 West Hedding Street in San Jose.

Autopsy Reports
Not all of the deaths we investigate require us to complete an autopsy, however, if an autopsy is completed the Medical Examiner assigned to the case will complete an Autopsy Report. Due to County-imposed staffing and budgetary constraints the turnaround time for autopsy reports can be up to 6 months until 2013, and unless restricted by policy (see Public records Act Request policy below), a copy may be obtained from the Medical Examiner-Coroner’s Office upon request. 

Toxicology Reports
Not all cases we investigate require toxicology tests, but when appropriate the tests are completed and a laboratory report is submitted to the Coroner’s Office for review. Although the information contained within the Toxicology Report is also contained within the Autopsy Report, it is a separate report that unless restricted by policy, (see Public Records Act Request policy below), may be obtained in the same manner and at the same time as the Autopsy Report. 

Requesting a copy of an Autopsy or Toxicology report
Unless restricted by policy, (see Public Records Act Request policy below), Autopsy Reports and Toxicology Reports may be requested in person, by telephone, by mail, or by email. Prior to making any request it is advisable that you contact the Medical Examiner-Coroner’s Office at (408) 793-1900 to ensure that the report you would like to request has been completed and is not restricted by policy.

Requesting a report by mail
If making the request by mail we ask that you contact the Medical Examiner-Coroner’s Office at (408) 793-1900 prior to mailing in the request to ensure that the report is available and so that we can advise you of the costs of obtaining the report. Additionally, when ordering reports by mail please include the name of the decedent, date of death, Medical Examiner-Coroner's case number, and a check made payable to Santa Clara County Medical Examiner-Coroner's Office for all costs associated with the request. You can mail your request to the Santa Clara County Medical Examiner-Coroner's Office, 850 Thornton Way, San Jose, CA 95128-4702.

Fees
In most situations, the Medical-Examiner/Coroner’s Office will not charge any fees to cover the time and costs incurred in searching for, locating, collecting, or the actual public inspection of records. However, the Medical-Examiner/Coroner’s Office may charge for the actual costs of duplicating paper copies of records and postage, consistent with the amounts set forth in the Medical-Examiner/Coroner’s Office Schedule of Fees and Charges. The Medical-Examiner/Coroner’s Office may also charge for duplication costs in another medium in accordance with the amounts set forth in the Schedule of Fees and Charges. Requestors of electronic records shall pay for production costs, including the cost to construct the record and the cost of programming and computer services necessary to produce the copy if the request would require the production of a record that is otherwise only produced at regularly scheduled intervals, or the request would require data compilation, extraction, or programming to produce the record. The Medical-Examiner/Coroner’s Office will not charge for access to data that is readily accessible without significant cost to the Medical-Examiner/Coroner’s Office.

Our current fee is $5.75. There is an additional fee of $2.25 for all reports that are mailed out from the Medical Examiner-Coroner’s Office pursuant to a request. Most of our reports are located at the Medical Examiner-Coroner’s Office. Files prior to 1990 require an additional $31.00 to retrieve.

Public Records Act Request Policy
The California Legislature has declared that access to information concerning the conduct of the people’s business is a fundamental and necessary right of every person in this state. The California Public Records Act (PRA), Government Code Sections 6250 to 6270, requires the Santa Clara County Medical-Examiner/Coroner’s Office to make public records available for inspection by the public and to provide copies upon request. The Medical-Examiner/Coroner’s Office has established the following guidelines to ensure that all persons are afforded the opportunity to use their right to access the public records being held by the Medical-Examiner/Coroner’s Office.

What are “Public Records”
“Public Records” include any writing containing information relating to the conduct of the public’s business prepared, owned, used or retained by the Medical-Examiner/Coroner’s Office regardless of physical form or characteristics. “Writing” means handwriting, typewriting, printing, photo-stating, photocopying, photographing, transmitting by electronic mail or facsimile, and every other means of recording upon any tangible thing, any form of communication or representation, including letters, words, pictures, sounds or symbols or any combination thereof, and any record thereby created, regardless of the manner in which the record has been stored.

Public Inspection
Public records are open to inspection during regular office hours, generally 8:00am – 4:30pm, Monday through Friday, excluding holidays. Advanced notice is not required to inspect public records; however, the inspection of records must be consistent with the efficient functioning of the Medical-Examiner/Coroner’s Office. It is advisable for any person who wishes to inspect public records to contact the Medical-Examiner/Coroner’s Office at (408) 793-1900 to make sure that the records will be available upon arrival at the offices. It may be necessary to schedule an appointment if the requested records need to be researched, reviewed, or redacted of confidential information prior to being inspected and/or copied. It is the policy of the Medical-Examiner/Coroner’s Office that records not exempt from disclosure by state law will be open for public inspection with the least possible delay. In order to prevent records from being lost, damaged or destroyed during inspection, the Medical-Examiner/Coroner’s Office staff may determine the location of, and may monitor the inspection of all public records. There is no charge to inspect public records; however any request for copies of documents may result in a fee associated with producing the copy.

Request for Inspection
There is no specific form that must be used to request records, nor is there any language that must be used when making a request. Requests may be made orally or in writing; either in person, through the mail, via e-mail or over the telephone. Records will be made available in their original form or by a true and correct copy. Audio and computer data, or any other such records, shall be exact replicas unless the Coroner’s Office determines it is impracticable to provide exact replicas. If the record contains any confidential personal or medical information that is exempt under the California Public Records Act, individual privacy rights under the United States Constitution, individual privacy rights under the California State Constitution, or any Federal or State confidentiality or medical information privacy statute, the protected information will be redacted from the public record prior to inspection.

If a request includes documents which are not readily available in an acceptable format, the Medical-Examiner/Coroner’s Office may require additional time to present the documents for inspection. Under normal circumstances such documents will be presented for inspection within ten (10) calendar days from the date the request is received by the Medical-Examiner/Coroner’s Office. In unusual circumstances, the 10-day time limit may be extended by law for an additional fourteen (14) days. Any such delay will be communicated to the requester in writing setting forth the reason for the time extension.

Records that are Exempt from Inspection
In balancing the public’s right to access public records with other rights and interests, including the individual right of privacy and the need for the Medical Examiner Coroner’s Office to be able to competently perform its duties, the legislature has established certain categories of records that may be exempt from public disclosure under specified circumstances. These include records that may consist of or include the following information:

1. Certain personnel records;
2. Investigative records;
3. Drafts;
4. Confidential legal advice;
5. Records prepared in connection with litigation;
6. Real estate appraisals;
7. Native American graves;
8. Cemeteries and sacred places;
9. Archaeological site information;
10. Trade secrets;
11. Communications with the Governor’s Office; and
12. Information that is confidential pursuant to other state or federal statutes.

Photographs/Video Recordings
Any and all photographs or video recordings of the body, or any portion of the body, of a deceased person taken by or for the coroner at the scene of death or in the course of a post mortem examination or autopsy are not available for inspection at any time pursuant to Section 129 of the California Code of Civil Procedure. Anyone wishing to inspect or obtain copies of photographs will be required to obtain a court order as outlined in Section 129.