HOMICIDE AND SUDDEN DEATH SURVIVORS
Homicide and Sudden Death Survivor Guidelines
Issued July 1985
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The sudden and unexpected death of a family member1
is one of the most traumatic events that can affect an individual
during a lifetime. In a criminal justice system which has traditionally
concerned itself primarily with preserving the rights of the suspect/accused,
and which has only recently begun to rechannel its energies toward
protecting the rights and the needs of crime victims and witnesses,
the needs of surviving victims of sudden and unexpected death
have in many cases been overlooked. Dorothea Morefield, mother
of a murdered son, emphasized the plight of survivors when she
can accept a great deal of ignorance and a great deal of lack
of awareness - but to be told that I am not a real victim when
I have lost something more precious to me than my own life I
will not tolerate. So if any of you feel you are not dealing
with real victims when you deal with homicide survivors, just
Assuring that the needs of survivors are identified and that every
effort is made to meet these needs are indeed monumental tasks.
The need for a compassionate and dignified notification procedure,
as well as access to information regarding the death have been
consistently identified as basic requirements for alleviating
the trauma which results from the sudden and unexpected death
of a loved one. The specific needs of survivors are unique and
varied, and while many of them may not fall within the traditional
purview of law enforcement responsibility, prosecutors, police
officers, medical examiners, and others have a moral obligation
to provide proper assistance to survivors whenever possible.
In his keynote address at the June, 1983 Annual Conference of
the County Prosecutors Association of New Jersey, former Attorney
General Irwin I. Kimmelman identified the criminal justice system's
lack of concern for surviving victims as a problem to be addressed
and corrected. The Attorney General emphasized that families of
victims of homicide and sudden death are also victims who require
services similar to those provided to victims of other crimes.
At the Conference, Attorney General Kimmelman stated,
sudden or suspicious deaths are involved, the surviving families
are usually not included in our assistance efforts. Once it
has been determined that no crime exists, the law enforcement
community normally has no further involvement in the matter."
The Attorney General suggested that uniform statewide procedures
be developed for prosecutors, police officers, and medical examiners
to ensure that survivors of homicide and sudden death are afforded
proper assistance by law enforcement personnel. As a result, a
Working Group, composed of representatives from State, county
and local law enforcement agencies, medical associations and concerned
public and private organizations was impaneled to develop uniform
statewide guidelines to ensure that survivors of homicide and
sudden death are afforded proper assistance. The types of sudden
and unexpected death subject to these guidelines involve homicide,
including manslaughter and death by auto, suicide, fatal accident,
drowning, poisoning, and fire related deaths. The Department of
Health has compiled statistics which indicate that during calendar
year 1982 there were 2962 such sudden and unexpected deaths.
The Working Group in its original report, identified three major
areas to be addressed, which included, notification of death,
release of information and property, and the rendering of other
assistance. That report set forth minimum and optimum guidelines
for dealing with survivors of homicide and sudden death.
In a continuing effort to assist survivors, the Working Group
reconvened in September, 1985 to evaluate the implementation of
the guidelines. The Working Group agreed that in order to properly
evaluate the dissemination and implementation of the guidelines,
a questionnaire needed to be developed for each affected group
or agency concerning compliance, and to secure suggestions that
could provide the means to ensure that survivors are afforded
proper assistance. Subsequently, law enforcement agencies, funeral
home directors, hospital emergency room personnel, county medical
examiners, survivors who applied for death claims benefits through
the Violent Crimes Compensation Board, as well as survivors who
belong to various self-help groups within the State, were surveyed.
The result of the surveys indicated that there has been significant
progress in the area of assisting survivors, but that we have
not yet reached full implementation of the guidelines.
Since the original and revised reports are geared toward the law
enforcement community and others who have contact with survivors,
the Working Group agreed that survivors needed information specifically
designed for themselves. Therefore, the pamphlet entitled "Survivors
Rights to Information and Property" was developed.
The Working Group also became sensitized to the issue of organ
donations/transplants and the positive effect that making an anatomical
gift can have on the surviving family members. Therefore, a section
was included in this report along with a resource list of the
organ donations/transplant programs in the New Jersey area.
As a part of a public awareness effort, selected members of the
Working Group served on a panel which was videotaped for the Health
Information Network (HIN) on February 19, 1986. The Health Information
Network production entitled "Sudden Death Survivors" is another
means of dissemination of the guidelines to doctors and nurses
throughout the State by way of satellite TV.
The Working Group, through these Revised Homicide and Sudden Death
Survivor Guidelines, has attempted to include all pertinent information
regarding recent legislation that applies to survivors as well
as every other crime victim.
NOTIFICATION OF DEATH
Notification of death presents unique difficulties for both law
enforcement personnel and survivors. Both notifying and being
notified of the death of a loved one are most often painful and
extremely traumatic experiences. Although there is no "good" way
to notify survivors of a sudden and unexpected death, the compassionate
expression of dignity and respect will result in proper notification
which will assist survivors to cope with their great loss.
It is recommended that law enforcement officers, preferably those
involved in the investigation, notify the next of kin of the death
in person. At no time should survivors be notified of the death
by telephone. It is further suggested that law enforcement agencies
utilize two officers to effectuate the in-person notification
function, and that one of them be in uniform. Although some survivors
have asserted that the appearance of a uniformed officer at their
home caused trauma, the uniform itself is an identification that
will prevent confusion. Thus, the survivors will be more likely
to be put at ease and to answer the door and permit entry. Also,
there are other advantages in utilizing two officers to effect
a death notification. One officer should communicate the information
while the other carefully observes the reactions of the survivors.
Individuals react to death in various and often unexpected ways.
Some may suffer physical reactions which may require emergency
first aid, while others may become violent or aggressive which
may require their being physically restrained from harming themselves
or others. In addition, it may be advantageous to notify two or
more survivors separately, especially in instances which may require
them to provide law enforcement officers with investigative information.
In order to ensure that survivors are informed of a death by official
sources, notification of the next of kin should occur as soon
as possible after the death is discovered and the victim's identity
determined. The identity of the deceased or the facts and circumstances
concerning the death should be provided to the next of kin prior
to release to the media. However, in those cases where established
methods of identification of the deceased are unsuccessful, it
may be necessary to rely upon the media to aid in identification
by publishing a composite sketch or photograph of the victim.
If possible, the notifying officers should obtain pertinent medical
information about the survivors prior to making the notification.
This will enable the notifying officers to respond more properly
to the immediate needs of those who suffer chronic medical problems
such as heart disease, hypertension, etc.
Upon arriving at the survivors' residence, the officers should
introduce themselves, present their credentials, and politely
request to be admitted. If a child answers the door, the officers
should request to speak with his or her parents or guardian. After
admission to the residence the officers should attempt to seat
the survivors and ensure that the notification will be made to
the appropriate individuals. The officers should inform the survivors
of the death simply and directly and answer their questions tactfully
but honestly. They should provide as much information as possible
without jeopardizing a potential criminal investigation. The officers
should ask the survivors if they would like to have family or
friends contacted to assist them. Under no circumstances should
the officers depart the residence of a survivor who resides alone
until a designated friend or relative arrives.
After the survivors have recovered from the initial shock of learning
of the loss of a loved one, the officers should explain what can
be expected of them in the immediate future. The survivors should
be informed that it may be necessary for them to identify the
deceased. If so, the officers should transport or arrange the
transportation of the survivors to and from the hospital or morgue.
Survivors should also be informed that State law may require that
an autopsy be performed to establish the exact cause of death.
If it appears likely that survivors will have to be questioned
by other law enforcement personnel, they should be so informed.
If it is imperative that the survivors be questioned immediately
following notification, it should be conducted with compassion.
Prior to departing the residence, the officers should provide
the next of kin with their names and telephone numbers so that
additional questions can be answered and further assistance rendered,
There will be times when the survivors of sudden and unexpected
death are not immediately available. In such cases it is suggested
that the officers inquire of a neighbor if the next of kin is
expected home and at what time. If a survivor is at his place
of employment, the notifying officers should proceed there, contact
the survivor's supervisor, and request to speak to the survivor
privately so that notification can be made. In other cases where
survivors are unavailable and the neighbor is able to provide
an expected time of arrival, the officers should return at such
time to make the notification. If the neighbor is unable to provide
a time when the next of kin should be expected home, the officers
should explain to the neighbor that there has been a "medical
emergency" involving the deceased, and they should request that
the neighbor contact one of them when the survivors return home.
The officers should request that the neighbor not provide the
next of kin with any information pertaining to the "medical emergency"
until they have been officially contacted by the officers. In
the event that there is no adult next of kin at home at the time
that notification is attempted, it is recommended that the officers
inquire as to when an adult is expected home and they should return
at that time to accomplish the notification. If the next of kin
are out of state and are not expected home, the notification process
should be carried out in the same manner as that utilized in notifying
family members residing outside of the investigating agency's
jurisdiction as set forth below.
In the event that the victim's next of kin reside outside of the
investigating law enforcement agency's jurisdiction, the investigating
officer should contact the appropriate law enforcement agency
in the other jurisdiction. That agency should be requested to
make the in-person notification of death as described herein.
The investigating officer should request that the notifying officer
provide survivors with the investigating officer's name and telephone
number in the event that the survivors require additional information
When a critically injured person is transported to a hospital,
it is recommended that the hospital staff promptly notify the
appropriate law enforcement agency. Generally, if the injured
person dies shortly after arriving at the hospital the investigating
law enforcement officers should assume responsibility for notifying
the survivors of the death.
When a critically injured person is brought to the hospital, care
should be taken to preserve and label the package containing the
individual's clothing and personal effects. These possessions
should be secured in accordance with hospital policy, since they
may later be significant in establishing the victim's identity,
assisting the investigative effort and facilitating the return
of property to the victim's next of kin.
Where it is hospital policy to prepare the body of the deceased
for viewing by next of kin for identification purposes, investigating
law enforcement personnel should permit hospital staff adequate
time to properly complete their preparation. It is further recommended
that where possible, hospital staff permit survivors sufficient
time with the deceased. Where this is not possible survivors should
be provided with an explanation.
In a continuing effort to assist the next of kin of death by auto
victims and victims of assault by auto, former Attorney General
Irwin I. Kimmelman and the 21 County Prosecutors issued a Policy
Statement on July 15, 1985. This Policy Statement resulted from
discussions with representatives from Mothers Against Drunk Driving
(MADD) that followed enactment of P.L. 1985, c. 97, which upgraded
the crime of death by auto and established the new offense of
assault by auto.
It was determined that there was a need for a statewide policy
to ensure that next of kin of decedents in all motor vehicle crashes/accidents,
and victims of motor vehicle crashes/accidents who incur serious
bodily injury, are provided proper notification of any determination
to seek or decline criminal prosecution. The policy states that:
LAW ENFORCEMENT AGENCIES OPERATING WITHIN A COUNTY SHALL NOTIFY
THE COUNTY PROSECUTOR OF THE NAME, ADDRESS, AND TELEPHONE NUMBER
OF THE VICTIM'S NEXT OF KIN IN ALL MOTOR VEHICLE CRASHES/ACCIDENTS
INVOLVING DEATH AND OF THE VICTIM IN ALL MOTOR VEHICLE CRASHES/ACCIDENTS
INVOLVING SERIOUS BODILY INJURY. THE COUNTY PROSECUTOR SHALL
IMPLEMENT INTERNAL PROCEDURES TO ENSURE THAT THE VICTIM OR NEXT
OF KIN IS NOTIFIED OF ANY DETERMINATION TO SEEK OR DECLINE CRIMINAL
OF DEATH SUMMARY
of death should be made in person by a law enforcement officer
conducting the investigation.
staffing levels permit, two officers should effectuate the
notification, one of whom should be in uniform.
should occur as soon as the deceased's identity has been established
and the next of kin located.
attempt should be made to ascertain pertinent medical information
about surviving family members prior to their being notified
so that the officers will be better able to react to potential
arriving at the survivors' residence, the officers should
introduce themselves, present their credentials and request
a child answers the door, the officers should request to speak
to the child's parents and ensure that notification is being
made to the appropriate individual.
should be informed of the death simply and directly.
the request of the survivors, the officer should provide as
much information as possible regarding the circumstances of
the death without jeopardizing a criminal investigation.
officers should ask the survivors if there is anyone they
would like to have called to provide assistance or comfort.
The officers should not leave a survivor who resides alone
until someone designated by him arrives.
survivors should be informed that it may be necessary for
them to identify the deceased. If identification is necessary,
the officers should transport or arrange for the transportation
of the survivors to and from the hospital or morgue.
should be informed that state law may require an autopsy to
establish the exact cause of death.
should be informed that other law enforcement officers may
need to question them at a future time. If it is imperative
that survivors be questioned immediately after notification,
questioning should be conducted compassionately.
to departing the residence, the officers should provide the
survivors with their names and telephone numbers.
surviving family members reside outside of the jurisdiction
of the law enforcement agency responsible for investigating
the death, the investigating officer should contact the appropriate
law enforcement agency in the other jurisdiction. That agency
should be requested to make the in person notification as
a victim is brought to a hospital, care should be taken to
preserve and label the package containing the victim's clothing
and personal effects.
it is hospital policy to prepare the body for identification,
investigating law enforcement personnel should allow hospital
staff adequate time for preparation.
possible, hospital staff should permit survivors sufficient
time with the deceased or provide an explanation.
law enforcement agencies operating within a county shall notify
the county prosecutor of the name, address, and telephone
number of the victim's next of kin in all motor vehicle crashes/accidents
involving death and of the victim in all motor vehicle crashes/accidents
involving serious bodily injury. The county prosecutor shall
implement internal procedures to ensure that the victim or
next of kin is notified of any determination to seek or decline
RELEASE OF INFORMATION AND PROPERTY
Survivors of homicide and sudden death have identified the inability
to readily obtain detailed, accurate information regarding the
circumstances of the death as a source of frustration and an impediment
to a complete resolution of the grieving process.
The following procedures governing the release of information
to survivors of homicide and sudden death were designed to alleviate
much of the frustration experienced by the victim's next of kin.
It is suggested that these procedures be followed when information
is requested by survivors. While many survivors will require all
available information to successfully deal with the emotional
trauma caused by the loss of a loved one, others will be further
traumatized by being made aware of the specific details of a death.
In order to ensure that information which can be properly furnished
to survivors is made available, it is recommended that each law
enforcement agency designate an appropriate staff member to be
responsible for coordinating the dissemination of information
in all cases involving sudden and unexpected death. It is further
recommended, that where two or more law enforcement agencies are
involved, the agency that has primary responsibility should handle
the dissemination of appropriate information to both the survivors
and the media.
Upon request, all information pertaining to a suicide or an accidental
death should be made available to the victim's next of kin. The
individual responsible for disseminating such information should
exercise discretion in doing so. Some survivors may be emotionally
able to handle more details than others. Information pertaining
to homicide, including death by auto, and suspicious deaths should
be made available by the County Prosecutors Office to the victim's
next of kin upon their request provided that the release of the
requested information will not jeopardize a criminal investigation.
Autopsy information is available to the victim's next of kin upon
their written request to the State or County medical examiner.
Autopsy reports prepared by the medical examiner are generally
available within thirty days of the autopsy, however, toxicology
reports may take longer. In cases involving homicide, death by
auto and suspicious death, it is recommended that the medical
examiner consult with the County Prosecutor prior to releasing
Release of information to the media shall be governed by Executive
Order No. 123, which was signed by Governor Thomas H. Kean on
November 12, 1985. It is recommended that specific details pertaining
to a death be scrutinized to ensure that the information released
will not intensify the grief of surviving family members. It is
strongly suggested that the information released regarding the
death be made available to survivors prior to its release to the
It is recommended that hospital staff and funeral service personnel
provide only that information to the next of kin which is within
their specific areas of responsibility. Hospital staff and funeral
service personnel should refer survivors and members of the media
to the responsible law enforcement agency for any other information.
In addition to obtaining detailed, accurate information regarding
the circumstances of a death, survivors have indicated that they
frequently encounter difficulty in securing the return of the
deceased's personal property. The following procedures governing
the return of property are recommended. In cases involving homicide
and suspicious death where initially the victim is brought to
the hospital, it is suggested that the investigating law enforcement
officer take possession of the victim's clothing and personal
effects in compliance with hospital procedure. In those cases
where an investigation has determined that a death is accidental,
all of the victim's personal property should be returned to surviving
family members in accordance with New Jersey law. All property
not deemed pertinent to a criminal investigation should be released
promptly. Wherever possible, property which is determined to be
essential to a criminal investigation and is normally physically
retained should be photographed and returned upon the approval
of the County Prosecutor. If it is determined that the victim's
property cannot be promptly released, a designated law enforcement
officer should explain the reason for withholding the property
and ensure that it is returned when possible.
When the Working Group reconvened in September, 1985 it was agreed
that a pamphlet entitled "Survivors Rights to Information and
Property", which had been discussed in the original meetings of
the Working Group, should be developed for the survivor or significant
other to assist in the grieving process by answering questions
often asked by survivors. The Working Group agreed that survivors
need this information within 72 hours after the death of a loved
one and the only common denominator for all survivors in this
time period is the funeral director. The newly created Office
of Victim-Witness Advocacy in the Division of Criminal Justice
and the Office of Victim-Witness Assistance in the Violent Crimes
Compensation Board agreed to publish the pamphlet, and the Board
of Mortuary Science in the Division of Consumer Affairs agreed
to handle its distribution. Further, the Board of Mortuary Science
was requested to determine that distribution of this pamphlet
by funeral directors to survivors be a mandatory requirement to
be set forth in the New Jersey Administrative Code.
All hospital emergency room personnel, law enforcement officers,
and others who have contact with survivors of homicide and sudden
death should be familiar with the pamphlet entitled "Survivors'
Rights to Information and Property."
OF INFORMATION AND PROPERTY SUMMARY
law enforcement agency should designate an appropriate staff
member to coordinate the dissemination of information pertaining
to all sudden and unexpected deaths.
information pertaining to a death which has been determined
to be a suicide or otherwise accidental should be made available
to the victim's next of kin upon their request. Discretion
should be exercised so that the survivors are not provided
details which might produce additional trauma.
homicides, including death by auto, and cases involving suspicious
death, information which will not jeopardize a criminal investigation
should be provided by the county prosecutor's office to the
survivors upon their request. Discretion should be utilized
when providing details regarding the circumstances of the
death which might further traumatize the survivors.
state or county medical examiner shall provide a copy of the
autopsy report upon the written request of the next of kin
except in homicides, death by auto or suspicious deaths, whereupon
the medical examiner should consult with the county prosecutor
prior to its release.
Order No. 123 shall govern the release of information to the
media. Information should be provided to survivors prior to
its being released to the media. Information concerning details
of the death should be scrutinized to ensure that its release
will not intensify the grief of the survivors.
staff and funeral service personnel should release only that
information which is related to their specific area of responsibility.
All other requests for information should be referred to the
appropriate law enforcement agency.
those cases involving accidental death, the victim's personal
effects should be promptly returned. In homicides, including
death by auto, and suspicious deaths, property not deemed
pertinent to a criminal investigation should be released promptly.
Property which is determined to be essential to a criminal
investigation and is normally retained should be photographed
and returned upon the approval of the county prosecutor. If
it is determined that the property cannot be promptly released,
a designated law enforcement officer should explain the reason
for withholding property and ensure that it is returned when
directors shall provide survivors with a copy of the pamphlet
entitled "survivors rights to information and property" within
72 hours after the death of a loved one.
ASSISTANCE TO SURVIVORS
Survivors, especially survivors of homicide and sudden death,
experience a period of intense grief as a result of the death
of a loved one. In order to enable the surviving family members
to successfully resolve their grieving process, it is necessary
for those having contact with them to provide assistance and attempt
to meet their needs.
A compassionate notification procedure and access to information
pertaining to the death do much to facilitate the resolution of
the grieving process. The survivors, however, may require other
types of assistance to successfully overcome the trauma associated
with the death of a loved one. Inasmuch as survivors will be notified
of the death by law enforcement personnel, will arrange for burial,
and frequently will have contact with hospital personnel, it is
suggested that law enforcement, funeral service and hospital personnel
be familiar with the various types of other assistance which may
be required by survivors of homicide and sudden death.
The following are some of the types of assistance which may be
required by survivors.
In those cases where the decedent was the primary source of
family income, financial assistance will be of paramount importance.
If financial need is demonstrated, survivors should be directed
to the municipal or county welfare department. Where children
are involved, and the integrity of the family is temporarily
endangered because of financial hardship, the Division of Youth
and Family Services will provide indirect emergency financial
aid. Every police department and health care facility which
provides emergency medical care must by statute make available
and post information pertaining to assistance provided by the
Violent Crimes Compensation Board. In cases of homicide, survivors
should be provided assistance in completing the Violent Crimes
Compensation Board claim form. In addition, survivors should
also be directed to the regional Social Security office to apply
for available benefits and should be reminded of potential insurance
and pension benefits.
Many survivors may require counseling services to help resolve
the emotional crisis resulting from the sudden and unexpected
death of a loved one. Information regarding counseling agencies
can be obtained from the County Offices Victim/Witness Advocacy
within the Prosecutor's Office and from the Violent Crimes Compensation
Board's Counseling Services Program. In many areas, the United
Way Human Services Directory which contains a listing of counseling
agencies and other services may be of assistance to survivors
of sudden and unexpected death and ensure that they are referred
to the appropriate agencies.
In addition, there are support groups, many of which have chapters
in New Jersey, that may provide assistance to survivors of sudden
and unexpected death. These include the Compassionate Friends,
an organization which assists parents of deceased children resolve
the grief experienced as the result of their loss; Parents of
Murdered Children (POMC), a group whose purpose is to provide
emotional support to parents of children who were victims of
homicide; Justice for Murder Victims (J.M.V.), a group dedicated
to helping the families of murder victims through the trauma
they suffer; and Mothers Against Drunk Driving, (MADD) an organization
which provides emotional support to individuals who have experienced
the death or injury of a family member as a result of drunk
driving. A complete listing of support groups is published in
the Self Help Group Source Book which is available through the
New Jersey Self Help Clearinghouse.
Assistance to survivors has also been accomplished through enactment
of law. On July 31, 1985, Governor Thomas H. Kean signed into
law the "Crime Victim's Bill of Rights" which specifically defines
a victim to include the nearest relative of the victim of a criminal
homicide and requires that information be provided about financial
assistance and social services. On January 13, 1986 Governor Thomas
H. Kean signed into law the "Drunk Driving Victim's Bill of Rights"
which provides that in the event of a death, "victim" means surviving
spouse, a child of the next of kin and also mandates that assistance
Since survivor needs are often unique, it is difficult to determine
all forms of assistance which may be required. It is equally difficult
to identify all available resources to meet those needs. It is
recommended that law enforcement, funeral service, and hospital
personnel attempt to identify the resources within their geographic
or jurisdictional area which may prove useful in their effort
to facilitate the survivors' recovery from the trauma produced
by the sudden and unexpected death of a loved one.
TO SURVIVORS SUMMARY
enforcement, funeral service, and hospital personnel should
attempt to meet the needs of survivors of sudden and unexpected
financial assistance is required, survivors should be referred
to the appropriate agency.
offices and support groups in New Jersey are available to
provide assistance to survivors of homicide and sudden death.
to survivors has been accomplished through enactment of the
"Crime Victim's Bill of Rights" and the "Drunk Driving Victim's
Bill of Rights."
enforcement, funeral service, and hospital personnel should
attempt to identify resources within their geographic or jurisdictional
area which can assist survivors.
The Division of Criminal Justice and the County Prosecutors have
determined that crime victims and witnesses have the right to
be advised of the status and outcome of the criminal case in which
they are involved. As a result, victims and witnesses are informed
of the outcome of their case at each stage of the criminal justice
process. Survivors of homicide, which include manslaughter and
death by auto, have now become a part of this notification procedure.
In addition, survivors are informed of their right to make a victim
impact statement to the probation department regarding how the
crime has affected their lives. This statement will be considered
by the Court prior to imposition of the sentence upon the defendant.
Also, it is now possible for survivors as well as other crime
victims to make a victim input statement or give testimony at
a parole hearing.
The role of the Division of Criminal Justice and the Violent Crimes
Compensation Board have been expanded due to recent enactment
of the P.L. 1985 c. 404, effective April 9, 1986. This law establishes
and delineates the responsibilities of the newly created Office
of Victim-Witness Advocacy within the Division of Criminal Justice
as well as the County Offices of Victim-Witness Advocacy within
the 21 County Prosecutors' Offices. The statute provides for the
Attorney General, through the State Office of Victim-Witness Advocacy
and in consultation with the County Prosecutors, to promulgate
standards for all law enforcement agencies to make sure that crime
victims' rights are enforced. The standards will require the State
and County offices of Victim-Witness Advocacy to provide 16 statutorily
mandated services to victims and witnesses. These will include
orientation information about the criminal justice process and
crime prevention, social services and available compensation.
In addition, this statute created an Office of Victim-Witness
Assistance within the Violent Crimes Compensation Board which
will develop and coordinate a statewide victim-rights information
of homicide, which includes manslaughter and death by auto,
shall be notified of the status and outcome of the criminal
shall be informed of their right to effectuate victim impact
statements which will be considered by the court prior to
sentencing and the parole board prior to granting parole.
should receive the services and assistance required by the
attorney general victim-witness standards for law enforcement
The New Jersey State Legislature, as well as many public and private
agencies and organizations, have recently focused their attention
upon organ donations. A Uniform Anatomical Gift Act card, available
through the Division of Motor Vehicles and the New Jersey State
Bar Association's "Give the Gift of Sight and Life" pamphlet,
is a mechanism for indicating that a person desires to make an
anatomical gift; including the donation of an organ. The Uniform
Anatomical Gift Act provides that if an individual signs a donor
card in the presence of two witnesses, it becomes a legal document.
However, it is strongly suggested that individuals wishing to
donate organs inform their next of kin of their wishes so that
the next of kin will give permission for the organ donation upon
the individual's death. It should be noted that not all organs
intended to be donated can be accepted upon the death of the deceased.
The age and past medical history of the potential donor, and the
condition of the organ, may make that individual an unsuitable
candidate for organ donation.
When the issue of organ donation is approached in a sensitive
manner, experience has shown that the survivors can be helped
through the grieving process by knowing that the deceased has
been able to make an anatomical gift. Many families are comforted
by the fact that some good may come from their family's tragedy.
has shown that making an anatomical gift has positive effects
on the surviving family members.
As is true of all areas of law enforcement, no two sudden and
unexpected death situations are exactly alike. There is no perfect
way to notify surviving family members of the death of a loved
one. There is no clearly identified procedure for determining
what information can or cannot be provided to the victim's next
of kin in every case. The types of assistance required by survivors
will differ. Therefore, the recommendations provided herein are
in the nature of guidelines. They are designed to ensure that
survivors of sudden and unexpected death are afforded the same
treatment provided to every other crime victim.
The revised guidelines will be widely disseminated to law enforcement
agencies, health care facilities and funeral homes and hopefully
will continue to be utilized in the day to day activities of such
agencies. It is also our hope that the distribution of the pamphlet
entitled "Survivors Rights to Information and Property" by funeral
home directors will help alleviate some of the stress associated
with the death of a loved one. Although the basic training course
for newly appointed police officers mandated by the Police Training
Commission includes proper treatment of these guidelines, it is
recommended that in-service training for police officers regarding
the guidelines, specifically in the area of death notification,
be conducted on a county/regional level for line supervisors who
in turn will instruct officers within their own police department.
The Working Group grew closer together while revising these guidelines
through the exploration of problems experienced by survivors of
sudden and unexpected death. The Working Group is pleased that
the law enforcement community and others have joined us in recognizing
that survivors of homicide or sudden death are indeed victims.
Thus, the Working Group recommended that these Revised Homicide
and Sudden Death Survivors Guidelines be announced along with
the pamphlet entitled "Survivors Rights to Information and Property"
at the Crime Victims' Rights Week Seminar.
1For purpose of this report, family member also includes