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 ENACT "CHRISTIAN'S LAW"; TO CODIFY NEW SECTION 41-61-66, MISSISSIPPI CODE OF 1972, TO PROVIDE FOR THE CONFIDENTIALITY OF AUTOPSY MEDIA RECORDS HELD BY A MEDICAL EXAMINER; TO DEFINE TERMS; TO PROVIDE EXCEPTIONS UNDER CERTAIN CIRCUMSTANCES, INCLUDING FOR THE DECEASED'S SURVIVING RELATIVES, FOR LOCAL GOVERNMENTAL ENTITIES, FOR CRIMINAL OR ADMINISTRATIVE PROCEEDINGS, AND FOR EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES; TO AUTHORIZE COURTS TO ALLOW ANY PERSON TO VIEW SUCH RECORDS UPON A DEMONSTRATION OF GOOD CAUSE; TO PROVIDE CRIMINAL PENALTIES FOR WILLFUL VIOLATION OF A COURT ORDER; TO PROVIDE CRIMINAL PENALTIES FOR VIOLATION OF THIS SECTION BY A CUSTODIAN OF AUTOPSY MEDIA RECORDS; TO PROVIDE THAT THIS SECTION SHALL NOT PREVENT CERTAIN DISCLOSURES; AND FOR RELATED PURPOSES.
BE IT ENACTED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF THE STATE OF MISSISSIPPI:
SECTION 1. The following shall be codified as Section 41-61-66, Mississippi Code of 1972:
41-61-66. (1) This section shall be referred to and may be cited as "Christian's Law."
(2) For the purposes of this section:
(a) "Surviving relative" means:
(i) The surviving spouse of the deceased;
(ii) If there is no surviving spouse, the surviving parents of the deceased;
(iii) If there is no surviving spouse or parent, the surviving adult children of the deceased; or
(iv) If there is no surviving spouse, parent or adult children, the next of kin of the deceased.
(b) "Autopsy media records" means:
(i) A photograph or video or audio recording of an autopsy; and
(ii) A photograph or video or audio recording of the crime scene taken by or used by the coroner or the medical examiner.
(3) Autopsy media records are confidential subject to the provisions of this section. The custodian of the autopsy medical records, or his or her designee, may not permit any person or entity, unless authorized by this section or court order pursuant to this section, to access autopsy media records. In all cases, the viewing, copying, listening to and/or other handling of autopsy media record must be under the direct supervision of the custodian of the record or his or her designee.
(4) (a) A surviving relative, or the surviving relative's designee, may view, listen to, and/or copy autopsy media records;
(b) A local governmental entity, or a state or federal agency, in furtherance of its official duties, pursuant to a written request, may view, listen to, copy and/or disclose autopsy media records. Unless otherwise required in the performance of the duties of the local governmental entity, the identity of the deceased shall remain confidential and exempt under this paragraph;
(c) A criminal or administrative proceeding is exempt from this section. This section 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;
(d) A coroner or a medical examiner, and his or her designee, or a medical physician, and his or her designee, in lawful possession of autopsy media records may use autopsy media records for educational purposes as long as:
(i) Personal information identifying the decedent, including name address, social security number, case and/or medical record number and any other uniquely identifying features, is redacted and expunged from the autopsy records; and
(ii) Facial identity of the deceased is rendered as anonymous as reasonably possible.
For the purposes of this paragraph, "educational purposes" include, but are not limited to, medical or scientific teaching or training purposes, teaching or training law enforcement personnel, teaching or training of attorneys or others with a bona fide professional need to use or understand forensic science, conferring with medical or scientific experts in the field of forensic science, publication in a scientific or medical journal or textbook.
(5) (a) A court, upon a showing of good cause, may:
(i) Issue an order authorizing any person to view, listen to, and/or copy a autopsy media record; and
(ii) May prescribe any restrictions or stipulations that the court deems appropriate.
(b) In determining good cause, a 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.
(c) A surviving relative shall be given:
(i) Reasonable notice of a petition filed with a court to view, listen to, and/or copy an autopsy media record;
(ii) A copy of such petition; and
(iii) Reasonable notice of the opportunity to be present and heard at any hearing on the matter.
(d) 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 or a fine of Ten Thousand Dollars ($10,000.00), or both.
(6) Any custodian of an autopsy media record who willfully and knowingly violates this section commits a felony punishable upon conviction by one (1) year imprisonment in the State Penitentiary or a fine of Ten Thousand Dollars ($10,000.00), or both.
(7) Nothing in this section shall:
(a) 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.
(b) 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.
(8) This section shall not 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.