The determination of time of death, or the interval between the time of death and when the body is found (i.e., postmortem interval), can only be estimated. Unless there is a witness, the time of someone's death cannot be determined with certainty. The longer the time since death, the greater the chance for error in determining the postmortem interval. There are numerous individual observations which, when used together, provide the best estimate of the time of death. The examiner must check the following: rigor mortis, livor mortis, body temperature, and decompositional changes. A thorough scene investigation is absolutely essential. The physical findings of the body must be compared to witness accounts of when the decedent was last seen or heard. The environment is the single most important factor in determining the postmortem interval because decompo-sitional changes occur much more rapidly in warmer temperatures.
The type of clothing may help indicate what the person was doing and the time of day when death occurred.
The use of gastric contents helps to determine the type of food last eaten. It is not very helpful in determining time of death because of the variability in how a person's system deals with different amounts and types of food.
Was this article helpful?