classical mistakes in forensic pathology


Wax anatomical model (Francesco Calenzuoli 1796-1821)

Source: Morbid Anatomy



Public scrutiny of forensic pathology is frequently intensive, particularly where a 'miscarriage of justice' is perceived, and the case is 'taken on by the media' as a cause celebre.

Dr Alan Moritz identified several 'mistakes' to avoid in forensic pathology, in his 'classic paper' of 1956;

  • not being aware of the objective of the medicolegal autopsy
  • performing an incomplete autopsy
  • permitting the body to be embalmed before performing a medicolegal autopsy
  • mistakes resulting from non-recognition or misinterpretation of postmortem changes
  • failure to make an adequate examination and description of external abnormalities
  • confusing the objective with the subjective sections of an autopsy protocol (report)
  • not examining the body at the scene of the crime
  • not making adequate photographs of the evidence
  • not exercising good judgment in the taking or handling of specimens for toxicologic examination
  • permitting the value of the protocol (report) to be jeopardised by minor errors

Dr Michael Pollanen on the role of a forensic pathologist


medicolegal misconceptions


The public is exposed to a wealth of forensic pathology in the media, particularly in TV programmes such as Silent Witness (UK) and CSI. However, these representations are rarely accurate.

Dr Charles Petty identified popular medicolegal misconceptions (the 'devil's dozen') in an article in 1971;

  • that the time of death can be precisely determined by the examination of the body
  • that the autopsy always yields the cause of death
  • that the autopsy can properly be carried out without a 'history'
  • that the autopsy is over when the body leaves the autopsy room
  • that embalming will not obscure the effects of trauma and disease
  • that only true and suspected homicide victims need examination
  • that the cause and manner of death are the only results of the autopsy
  • that any pathologist is qualified
  • that the autopsy must be immediate
  • that the poison is always detected by the toxicologists
  • that all physicians are good death investigators
  • that the medicolegal autopsy is criminally or prosecution oriented

errors and audit


what really happens in a hospital at night?




Infographic illustrating the potential errors that take place during night-shifts in hospital.

Source: where a full-sized version can be found

Forensic pathology - quality and mistakes on Flipboard



View my Flipboard Magazine.


There are not a few cases in which it has been discovered that the body of a murdered person has been disposed of as though death had been due to natural causes (as a result of clearing up another murder). This suggests that many murderers must not infrequently succeed in avoiding the detection of their crime.

The Detection of Secret Homicide. Havard JDJ 1960

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