Vital Records Explained: Are Autopsies Public Records?

In the US, it depends on state law. For instance, in Alabama, under state statutes, autopsies are public records, in Arkansas, however, autopsy reports are not medical records, meaning they are public records

See autopsy laws by state in the table below

Quick take: are autopsies public records?

  • State law determines who has the authority to request autopsy reports.
  • Autopsy reports are generally open to next of kin, family, insurance investigators, law enforcement and prosecutors.
  • You may have to file a FOIA request to access autopsy reports if you are unrelated to the deceased.

Are autopsy reports public records?

An autopsy, necropsy, or post mortem examination refers to a surgical procedure aimed at establishing the cause of death. Depending on state law, autopsy reports could be medical records. Why is that important? 

Federal and state privacy laws do not allow anyone to view your medical records without your consent. Consequently, if autopsy reports are medical reports in your state, the documents are not public records. For example, in Massachusetts, autopsy reports are medical records. Under section 32 chapter 2, the state’s chief medical examiner may only share autopsy reports with the following parties:

  • Law enforcement agents/ investigatory bodies.
  • Spouses and next of kin.
  • Parties in a civil proceeding related to the death. 

Note that state law allows the chief medical examiner to set a fee. That means that to access an autopsy report, you must pay for it in almost all states. 

Who performs autopsies in the US?

The chief medical examiner is the person tasked with making autopsy reports in the majority of states. Therefore, the easiest way to find autopsy reports in your state is to visit the states’ official chief medical examiner’s website. For instance, if you are in New York. You may visit the NYC Office of Chief Medical Examiner here

Find your state’s chief medical examiner’s website and contact information in the table below.

Who can access autopsy reports in the US?

As mentioned, state law determines who has the authority to view autopsy reports. But generally, the records are available to family members/next of kin, investigatory bodies, and parties involved in civil proceedings related to the deceased.

Where to download autopsy reports?

Note: 

  • autopsy reports become public records after investigations are complete. 
  • State law may limit the amount of information you may receive if you are not family or next of kin. 
  • Family, legal representatives, and insurers may access autopsy reports in states where the information is not public.
  • In some states, you may need consent from the relatives or state to view autopsy reports. 
StateAutopsy report related statutePublic record statusChief medical examiner website/contact information. (Request and download autopsy reports by state)
Alabama  Ala. 45-27-60.07 Ala. Code § 36-18-2Public record if there is no pending criminal investigation.   Anyone may request a copy.State Department of Forensic Sciences, and records. https://www.adfs.alabama.gov/services/di/family-resources  
  Alaska  AS 12.65.020   AS 40.25. AS 40.25.110 -.125.Public record.   Statute does not directly address coroner reports. Available to:State Medical Examiner. https://dhss.alaska.gov/dph/MedicalExaminer/Pages/default.aspx
Arizona  A.R.S. §§ 11-594 Public record if there is no pending criminal investigation.   may require court approval.State Medical Examiner. https://www.maricopa.gov/468/Medical-Examiner
Arkansas  Ark. Code Ann. § 12-12-312Reports are subject to the FOIA act. Public record if there is no pending criminal investigation.   Medical information/records are exempt from disclosure.  Arkansas State Crime Laboratory https://www.dps.arkansas.gov/crime-info-support/arkansas-state-crime-lab/contact-us/
California  Cal. Gov’t Code § 27491.6Public records. Anyone may request a copy if there is no pending investigation.Office of the Medical Examiner-coroner https://medicalexaminer.sccgov.org/medical-examiner-coroners-reports
Colorado  § 24-72-204(3)(a)(I).Public record. Not public until suspect is arrested or investigations end.State Coroner https://www.denvergov.org/Government/Agencies-Departments-Offices/Agencies-Departments-Offices-Directory/Public-Health-Environment/Medical-Examiner/Autopsy-Report-Request
Connecticut  Conn. 448, 518 A.2d 64  Stat. §19a-411.Not public record. Next of kin and family may request a copy.Chief Medical Examiner https://portal.ct.gov/OCME
Delaware  16 Del. C. § 1210Not public. You must have property documentation and authorization (proof of relationship). Available to family and next of kinDivision of Forensic Science https://forensics.delaware.gov/forms/index.shtml?dc=famRequestForm
District of ColumbiaD.C. Code Ann. § 5-1412(c).You must “legitimate interest” to access autopsy reports. Available to next of kin and family.Chief Medical Examiner https://ocme.dc.gov
Florida  119.011(1)F.SPublic record if there is no pending criminal investigation.   You must show “good cause” Anyone may obtain a copy.District Examiner https://www.pinellascounty.org/forensics/me_faqs.htm
Georgia  O.C.G.A. § 45-16-27(d) 556, 385 S.E.2d 406 Public record. You must have written permission from next of kin or family to access images or videos.Division of Forensic Sciences  https://dofs-gbi.georgia.gov/autopsies
Hawaii  Haw. Rev. Stat. § 346-10Public records.  State may withhold if there is a pending investigation.Chief Medical Examiner https://www.honolulu.gov/med
Idaho   Public recordOffice of the Coroner https://adacounty.id.gov/coroner/coroner-faq/
Illinois  5 ILCS 140/7(1)(d)(i)Not public record if there is a pending criminal investigation.Chief Medical Examiner https://www.cookcountyil.gov/agency/medical-examiners-office
Indiana  I.C. § 5-14-3-3) (I.C. § 5-14-3) (I.C. § 36-2-14-18(c))Public record. You must submit a written request. Open to:Coroner https://www.in.gov/ctb/files/section501.pdf
Iowa  Iowa Code § 691.6 r Iowa Code § 331.802 Cause of death is public record. Remaining information i9nclduing photos and videos are medical records.Chief Medical Examiner https://iosme.iowa.gov/faq/who-can-obtain-copies-autopsy-report-and-death-certificate
Kansas   Kan. Att’y Gen. Op. 1986-05. Kansas Open Record Act (KORA)Public record once completed.
Kentucky  Ky. Rev. Stat. 61.878(1)(h) Open Records Actpublic record when investigations conclude.Chief Medical Examiner https://justice.ky.gov/Departments-Agencies/Documents/ME/KentuckyMedicalExaminerBrochure.pdf   c
      Louisiana  La. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 13:5713 not public records 
Maine   22 M.R.S.A. § 3022(8). not public recordsChief Medical Examiner https://www.maine.gov/ag/crime/chief_medical_examiner.shtml
Maryland  § 4-329.public recordsChief Medical Examiner https://health.maryland.gov/ocme/Pages/faqs.aspx#:~:text=To%20review%20an%20autopsy%20report,warrant%20the%20release%20of%20materials.
Massachusetts   medical records/ not public records kin/family may have to submit a written affidavit.Chief Medical Examiner https://www.mass.gov/autopsy-reports
New Hampshire  RSA 611-A:8,III,confidential medical records  you must have consent from next of kin/familyDepartment of Justice https://www.doj.nh.gov/medical-examiner/
New Jersey  N.J.A.C. 8:2A-1.2. N.J.S.A. 47:1A-1.1public recordsDepartment of Health https://www.nj.gov/health/me/about-us/
New Mexico  NMSA 1978 § 24-14-28(A) Public record. Available to “anyone demonstrating a tangible and direct interest.”   
New York  Available to next of kin and district attorney.Chief Medical Examiner https://www1.nyc.gov/site/ocme/services/autopsy.page
North Carolina  North Carolina G. S. § 130a-389.Limited access. Available to:Chief Medical Examiner https://www.ocme.dhhs.nc.gov/annreport/index.shtml
North Dakota  N.D.C.C. § 23-01-05.5.Confidential. Available to:State Forensic Examiner http://www.ndhealth.gov/ndme/coronerinformati.html
Ohio   Public record after completion of investigations. 
Oklahoma  3 O.S. § 945(D) 63 O.S. § 945(E)Summary report is public recordChief Medical Examiner
Oregon  ORS 192.345(36) Limited access. Open to next of kin and family membersChief Medical Examiner https://www.oregon.gov/osp/programs/pages/med.aspx
Pennsylvania  Pennsylvania right to know lawPublic record
Rhode Island  R.I. Gen. Laws §§ 23-3-1
South Carolina   S.C. Code Ann. §§ 17-5-535Not public record/ medical records.
South Dakota  SDCL §23-14-12.Not public records
Michigan   Open to family and next of kin. You may file a Freedom of Information (FOIA) request if you are not related to the deceasedCounty Medical Examiner https://www.oakgov.com/me/Pages/autopsy.aspx
Minnesota  Minn. Stat. § 13.83, subd. 2 Data practices actPublic records. Family and next of kin do not payChief Medical Examiner https://www.health.state.mn.us/people/vitalrecords/deathreg/coroners_and_mes.cfm
Mississippi  41 -61-63(a). Autopsy reports open to:Chief Medical Examiner   https://www.dps.ms.gov/forensic-laboratories/medical-examiner/reports
Missouri  .Rev.Stat. § 194.115,  §§ 58.720-.740Public record. Fee does not apply to family.Chief Medical Examiner   https://greenecountymo.gov/medical_examiner/FAQ.php#A156
Montana  Chief Medical Examiner https://dojmt.gov/crime/medical-examiner/
Nebraska  Coroner https://countyattorney.douglascounty-ne.gov/coroner-s-office
New HampshireRSA 611-A:8,II RSA 611-B:11  Medical report/not public records You will need consent from family or next of kinChief Medical Examiner https://www.doj.nh.gov/medical-examiner/
Nevada   Public recordCoroner https://www.washoecounty.gov/coroner/faq/autopsy_report.php
Tennessee  Tenn. Code Ann. § 38-7-108Public record. Anyone may request copies.Department of Health https://www.tn.gov/health/health-program-areas/oscme.html
Texas  Tex. Atty. Gen. Op. JC-0422Public record. Anyone may request a copyInstitute of Forensic Science https://ifs.harriscountytx.gov/Pages/AutopsyReports.aspx
Utah   Utah Code § 26-4-17.Open to: You may need a written requestChief Medical Examiner   https://ome.utah.gov/category/our-services
Vermont   1 V.S.A. § 317. 18 V.S.A. § 505.  18 V.S.A. § 5205)Not public records.Chief Medical Examiner https://www.healthvermont.gov/health-professionals-systems/office-medical-examiner/recordsreports
Virginia  Va. Code Ann. § 32.1-285Medical records/ not public records, Open to  Chief Medical Examiner https://www.vdh.virginia.gov/medical-examiner/information-for-family-and-friends/faqs/
Washington   RCW 68.50.105.Confidential. Open toChief Medical Examiner https://snohomishcountywa.gov/771/Records-Requests
West Virginia  N/AMedical records/not public records. Open toChief Medical Examiner https://dhhr.wv.gov/ocme/Document_Request/Pages/Document%20requests.aspx
Wisconsin  Wis. Stats. 19.34(1)Cause of death is public record.   Family and next of kin may access photos, and other autopsy records, County Medical Examiner’s Office https://www.co.jackson.wi.us/index.asp?SEC=6E2F062F-D4FE-481C-AD00-4132BE7E5466&DE=BB6238A1-459B-4744-825F-1131992568B0   you may obtain non certified copies at the County Register of Deeds office
Wyoming  Wyo. Stat. § 16-4-203(d)(I)You may petition the court if you have “good cause” Open to:    Coroner https://www.tetoncountywy.gov/258/Coroner

Other Vital Records Laws