have been vital for adjudicating the state’s death penalty cases and for prompt payment of insurance claims.
Another major advantage of a statewide system is uniformity. Virginia’s uniformity comes from its statute covering types of cases automatically in the jurisdiction of the medical examiner. One example, set to take effect in 2003, is automatic referral of all deaths in state mental institutions. High-profile investigations had uncovered abusive practices in the handling of patients in those institutions, which resulted in preventable deaths. Automatic referral to medical examiner offices was instituted by the state legislature to promote more humane treatment and avoid abuses. Uniformity also covers credentialing, training, and continuing education of medical examiners and death investigators; coding of deaths; access to case files through archive and retrieval policies; criteria for exhumation and disposition of unclaimed bodies; and appeals processes. Those features benefit not only death investigations but also public health epidemiology and surveillance. Virginia’s office reports to the legislature each year on child fatalities, family violence, and domestic violence. The state office is striving to set up a new information-technology system that will permit greater access to its data; the goal is to develop a system with great utility not only for criminal prosecutions but also for epidemiologic and surveillance purposes.
A final set of advantages of a statewide system are related to central administration. A statewide system like that in Virginia can have statewide guidelines for case management and death scene investigation. It also can have 24-hour consultation with any site in the state, which is an especially important feature for isolated areas with little experience. Furthermore, a large cadre of forensic pathologists (Virginia has 13) gives the state the flexibility to shift manpower in case of a mass disaster. Centralized administration can sustain the cost of central laboratories, and it can take advantage of economies of scale and purchasing power. Virginia’s centralized administration devotes personnel to writing grants, which can be extremely time-consuming.
The growth of Virginia’s centralized system depended heavily on obtaining seed money from federal grants expressly for infrastructure. Virginia's system was awarded $8 million in 1970 to establish a forensic science laboratory and a DNA laboratory. The DNA databank, which stores data on 200,000 people, has proved