I'm a writer so I've been trying to do some research for one of my MCs who ends up getting executed but has the ability to come back from the dead, preferably with a body intact so an Autopsy isn't something they'd desire after the execution and would try to deny that procedure from happening in the first place.

Some background information that might be necessary: My MC is executed in Tennesse by Lethal injection, in late 2019 under the Federal government (the mc was a former government spy) for the conviction of 4 homicides of other agents, treason and espionage.

Now, I have been trying to read and research prior to posting here but it's not all clear as there's a lot of contradictive answers online. Some say it's compulsory, some say that prisoners are able to side-step the autopsy afterwards, which leaves me more questions than answers.

Would this be something that they'd be allowed by choice or something that their lawyers could do for them or is it ultimately going to be overruled as a legal requirement for all executed prisoners?

  • Good question. Don't know the answer. Suspect it is not uniform nationwide.
    – ohwilleke
    Aug 31, 2020 at 16:52
  • 1
    note that between 2003 and june 2020, no death penalty by the federal government had been carried out. in 2003, the last case was Luis Jones Jr. The first one after the 'break' was Daniel Lewis Lee. In general, the list of federal executions is rather short and has long breaks: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/…
    – Trish
    Aug 31, 2020 at 21:10
  • also note, that since 1963, the federal governement only has had 8 executions - all in USP Terre Haute, Indiana. All 52 federal Death Row convicts are in that prison, afaik.
    – Trish
    Aug 31, 2020 at 21:16

1 Answer 1


Florida law (§922.11) does provide that

The body of the executed person shall be delivered to the medical examiner for an autopsy. After completion of the autopsy, the body shall be prepared for burial and, if requested, released to relatives of the deceased. If a coffin has not been provided by relatives, the body shall be delivered in a plain coffin. If the body is not claimed by relatives, it shall be given to physicians who have requested it for dissection or to be disposed of in the same manner as are bodies of prisoners dying in the state prison.

Tennessee, on the other hand, is reported to have honored requests to not autopsy and autopsied only 1 of 6 executed prisoners. The Tennessee law (38-7-106) says that

A county medical examiner may perform or order an autopsy on the body of any person in a case involving a homicide, suspected homicide, a suicide, a violent, unnatural or suspicious death, an unexpected apparent natural death in an adult, sudden unexpected infant and child deaths, deaths believed to represent a threat to public health or safety, and executed prisoners. When the county medical examiner decides to order an autopsy, the county medical examiner shall notify the district attorney general and the chief medical examiner. The chief medical examiner or the district attorney general may order an autopsy in such cases on the body of a person in the absence of the county medical examiner or if the county medical examiner has not ordered an autopsy. The district attorney general may order an autopsy in such cases on the body of a person in the absence of the county medical examiner or the failure of the county medical examiner to act. The authority ordering the autopsy shall notify the next of kin about the impending autopsy if the next of kin is known or reasonably ascertainable. The sheriff or other law enforcement agency of the jurisdiction shall serve process containing such notice and return such process within twenty-four (24) hours.

The medical examiner has discretion (autopsy is not an obligation). Louisiana law is a little unclear at the statutory level, because

The coroner shall either view the body or make an investigation into the cause and manner of death in all cases involving the following... (2) Sudden or violent deaths...(9) Deaths due to drowning, hanging, burns, electrocution, gunshot wounds, stabs or cutting, lightning, starvation, radiation, exposure, alcoholism, addiction, tetanus, strangulation, suffocation, or smothering... (12) Deaths in prison or while serving a sentence.

The coroner can discharge that obligation by non-invasive means. Lousiana has a religious-objection provision:

If the family of the deceased objects to an autopsy on religious grounds, the autopsy shall not be performed unless the coroner finds that the facts surrounding the death require that an autopsy be performed in the interest of the public safety, public health, or public welfare. In such cases the coroner shall provide the family his written reasons for the necessity of the autopsy.

It's hard to see how there could be a public interest reason compelling an autopsy in the case of a governmental execution, but this is fiction.

Some states have a law providing for religious exceptions to autopsy. You can make a request in S. Carolina, and here is the law in California (moot for the moment since there are no executions in California).

You could try "forum shopping" (changing the state so that you don't get a mandatory autopsy law), but a search of all 50 states is really impractical.

  • How's Indiana, where all the 52 death row convicts of the federal government are located?
    – Trish
    Aug 31, 2020 at 21:19
  • Indiana law doesn't compel an autopsy, and apparently only Purkey of the recent 5 was actually autopsied, but it was not official and was requested by his relatives.
    – user6726
    Aug 31, 2020 at 23:50
  • "It's hard to see how there could be a public interest reason compelling an autopsy in the case of a governmental execution": I suppose that any controversy surrounding the circumstances of the prisoner's death (possible irregularities in the execution, for example) or the final days of life could supply such a reason.
    – phoog
    Sep 1, 2020 at 0:23

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