2021 Regular Session
To: Judiciary, Division B
By: Senator(s) Boyd, Moran, Carter, Seymour, Jackson (32nd), Suber, Barnett, Parks, Chism, Younger, Fillingane, McLendon, England, Sparks, Tate, Williams, Parker, Caughman, McMahan, Chassaniol, Barrett, Wiggins, Whaley, Thompson, Blackwell, Simmons (13th)
AN ACT TO AMEND SECTION 41-61-61, MISSISSIPPI CODE OF 1972, TO PROVIDE FOR THE CONFIDENTIALITY OF PHOTOGRAPHS AND VIDEO AND AUDIO RECORDINGS OF AN AUTOPSY HELD BY A MEDICAL EXAMINER; TO PROVIDE EXCEPTIONS FOR THE DECEASED'S SURVIVING RELATIVES AND EXCEPTIONS FOR CRIMINAL OR ADMINISTRATIVE PROCEEDINGS; TO PROVIDE THAT A COURT MAY ORDER ANY PERSON TO VIEW SUCH RECORDS FOR GOOD CAUSE AND TO PROVIDE CRIMINAL PENALTIES FOR VIOLATING A COURT ORDER; AND FOR RELATED PURPOSES.
BE IT ENACTED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF THE STATE OF MISSISSIPPI:
SECTION 1. Section 41-61-61, Mississippi Code of 1972, is amended as follows:
41-61-61. (1) Upon the death of any person where that death affects the public interest, the medical examiner of the county in which the body of the deceased is found or, if death occurs in a moving conveyance, where the conveyance stops and death is pronounced, shall be notified promptly by any person having knowledge or suspicion of such a death, as provided in subsection (1) of Section 41-61-59. The medical examiner shall then notify the State Medical Examiner, in accordance with Section 41-61-63(2)(a). No person shall disturb the body at the scene of such a death until authorized by the medical examiner, unless the medical examiner is unavailable and it is determined by an appropriate law enforcement officer that the presence of the body at the scene would risk the integrity of the body or provide a hazard to the safety of others. For the limited purposes of this section, expression of an opinion that death has occurred may be made by a nurse, an emergency medical technician, or any other competent person, in the absence of a physician.
(2) The discovery of anatomical material suspected of being part of the human body shall be promptly reported either (a) to the medical examiner of the county in which the material is found, who shall report the discovery to the State Medical Examiner, or (b) to the State Medical Examiner.
(3) A person who willfully moves, distributes or conceals a body or body part in violation of this section is guilty of a misdemeanor, and may be punished by a fine of not more than Five Hundred Dollars ($500.00), or by imprisonment for not more than six (6) months in the county jail, or by both such fine and imprisonment.
(4) Upon oral or written authorization of the medical examiner, if an autopsy is to be performed, the body shall be transported directly to an autopsy facility in a suitable secure conveyance, and the expenses of transportation shall be paid by the county for which the service is provided. The county may contract with individuals or make available a vehicle to the medical examiner or law enforcement personnel for transportation of bodies.
(5) (a) For the purposes of this subsection (5):
(i) "Medical examiner" means any district medical examiner or coroner as defined in Section 41-61-53, as well as any employee, deputy, or agent of a medical examiner or any other person who may obtain possession of a photograph or audio or video recording of an autopsy in the course of assisting a medical examiner in the performance of his or her official duties.
(ii) "Surviving relative" means:
1. The surviving spouse of the deceased;
2. If there is no surviving spouse, the surviving parents of the deceased; and
3. If there is a surviving spouse or parent, the surviving adult children of the deceased.
(b) A photograph or video or audio recording of an autopsy held by a medical examiner is confidential, except that a surviving relative may view and copy a photograph or video recording or listen to or copy an audio recording of the deceased's autopsy.
(c) (i) The surviving relative may designate in writing an agent to obtain such records.
(ii) A local governmental entity, or a state or federal agency, in furtherance of its official duties, pursuant to a written request, may view or copy a photograph or video recording or may listen to or copy an audio recording of an autopsy, and unless otherwise required in the performance of their duties, the identity of the deceased shall remain confidential and exempt.
(iii) The custodian of the record, or his or her designee, may not permit any other person, except an agent designated in writing by the surviving relative, to view or copy such photograph or video recording or listen to or copy an audio recording without a court order.
(d) (i) The court, upon a showing of good cause, may issue an order authorizing any person to view or copy a photograph or video recording of an autopsy or to listen to or copy an audio recording of an autopsy and may prescribe any restrictions or stipulations that the court deems appropriate.
(ii) In determining good cause, the court shall consider whether such disclosure is necessary for the public evaluation of governmental performance; the seriousness of the intrusion into the family's right to privacy and whether such disclosure is the least intrusive means available; and the availability of similar information in other public records, regardless of form.
(iii) In all cases, the viewing, copying, listening to or other handling of a photograph or video or audio recording of an autopsy must be under the direct supervision of the custodian of the record or his or her designee.
(e) A surviving relative shall be given reasonable notice of a petition filed with the court to view or copy a photograph or video recording of an autopsy or a petition to listen to or copy an audio recording, a copy of such petition, and reasonable notice of the opportunity to be present and heard at any hearing on the matter.
(f) (i) Any custodian of a photograph or video or audio recording of an autopsy who willfully and knowingly violates this section commits a felony punishable upon conviction by one (1) year imprisonment in the State Penitentiary and/or a fine of Ten Thousand Dollars ($10,000.00).
(ii) Any person who willfully and knowingly violates a court order issued pursuant to this section commits a felony punishable upon conviction by one (1) year imprisonment in the State Penitentiary and/or a fine of Ten Thousand Dollars ($10,000.00).
(g) A criminal or administrative proceeding is exempt from this subsection (5). This paragraph (g), however, does not prohibit a court in a criminal or administrative proceeding upon good cause shown from restricting or otherwise controlling the disclosure of an autopsy, crime scene, or similar photograph or video or audio recordings in the manner prescribed herein.
(h) Nothing in this subsection (5) shall prevent the disclosure of confidential victim communications by any governmental or private participant of a meeting of a multidisciplinary child protection team created under Section 43-15-51; such disclosure is governed by Section 43-15-51.
(i) Nothing in this subsection (5) shall prevent an advocate from a governmental organization from sharing victim information with necessary persons to accomplish the duties of the job or to satisfy statutory or constitutional requirements of disclosure.
(j) Nothing in this subsection (5) shall be construed as creating a cause of action for damages against the state or any of its agencies, officials, employees or political subdivisions.
SECTION 2. This act shall take effect and be in force from and after July 1, 2021.