Invite the local medical examiner/coroner to visit class and discuss his or her views on the death investigation process and the requirements for medical examiners/coroners in the community and nationwide. Help students prepare some basic questions that can be provided to the visitor in advance to help focus the discussion. Students can get ideas for questions by reviewing FRONTLINE’s resources “The Real CSI”, “Second Chances” and “Things to Know Before You Go.”
Debate the question, should there be national regulation and oversight to ensure competent death investigations? Have student groups research the pro and con positions for this question and then hold the debate. To get started with research, have students review “No National Standards, Little Oversight.”
Examine specific examples involving errors or negligence in the death investigation process. Select cases profiled in FRONTLINE’s interview with Dr. Frank Minyard or the case of Henry Glover and summarize the errors/negligence by death investigators and the results of these actions.
Have student groups use what they have learned from the lesson to brainstorm a job description that articulates the qualifications they believe death investigators in their community should have.
Create a flow chart that illustrates the various steps of the criminal investigation process. A good resource to get students started is the Department of Justice report “Death Investigation: A Guide for the Scene Investigator.” Discuss where the cause of death is determined and which steps provide data to inform that decision.