Confirmation of a decedent’s identity must occur before they can be released from the Summit County Medical Examiner’s facility. Most identifications are based on non-scientific methods, however, certain types of deaths require scientific confirmation. Family members are rarely asked to come to the Summit County Medical Examiner’s facility to confirm the identity of their family member.
Visual identification (viewing decedent at the scene or by viewing a photograph provided to the funeral home) is used for cases in which the person is not disfigured and there is no concern for foul play.
Comparison of physical characteristics (unique tattoos, combination of scars and other unique physical characteristics such as amputations and birth marks) is used for cases when family/close friends are not available to view the deceased at the scene or when there is disfigurement from injury or decomposition.
Scientific methods of identification include fingerprint comparison, dental or bone radiographic comparison, implanted device comparison and rarely DNA comparison. Scientific methods are used for homicide deaths, individuals who are disfigured by injury or decomposition, multiple deaths from a single event and other deaths as needed. In these cases, the medical examiner will obtain x-rays and medical information to complete the identification. Fingerprints are compared by a fingerprint examiner from an outside agency. DNA comparison takes 4-6 weeks to complete in most cases and requires a sample from a relative be sent to a laboratory along with a sample obtained from the decedent.