Postmortem Hemorrhage: Examination by a Forensic Pathologist

Forensic Science Newsletter: February 2017

A recent case I was asked to review involved a victim who had been shot multiple times.  In the first two trials the jury was unable to reach a verdict whether the shooting of the victim was self defense or murder.  The prosecution decided to try the shooter a third time.  As a forensic pathologist, I was subsequently asked to review some of the trial testimony, police reports, autopsy reports and the scene and autopsy photographs.

In the autopsy, the Forensic Pathologist states there was 750 cc of blood in the right pleural cavity; 450 cc in the left pleural cavity; 30 cc in the pericardial sac; and 100 cc in the abdominal cavity.  At the time of the trials, the Prosecutor inquired of the Forensic Pathologist, the significance of the blood in the respective cavities and the pericardial sac. 

To that inquiry the Forensic Pathologist testified as follows: “For there to be bleeding the heart must still be pumping.”  The question that needs to be asked is: “Is this a true statement?”

The answer to that question is “No”, it is not a true statement, for it discounts the phenomenon of postmortem hemorrhage (postmortem bleeding). Read more about this phenomenon in our latest forensic science newsletter.

Postmortem Hemorrhage: February 2017


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