Florida Bill to Shield Details from Children’s Autopsies

May 5, 2023 Criminal Defense

Two years after a mother tragically lost her two sons in an act of domestic violence, Florida Legislature is on its way to passing a new law that would prohibit the autopsy report of a minor to be released to the public.

This article will define an autopsy and its use, explain Florida’s current public record and autopsy laws, and information on the newly proposed bill and its origin.

What is an Autopsy?

An autopsy is a medical examination performed on a deceased person’s body to determine the cause of death.

During an autopsy, the medical examiner or pathologist will examine the body both internally and externally for any signs of injury, disease, or other possible causes of death.  The exam may include taking tissue samples, bodily fluids, or further laboratory analysis.

Autopsies are usually performed at the request of a coroner, medical examiner, or law enforcement agency. However, it can also be requested by the deceased person’s family, or by a physician for medical research purposes.

During a criminal investigation, autopsies can be extremely important to determine the victim’s cause of death, along with searching for any possible evidence from the person responsible for their death. The information gathered during an autopsy has important implications for both medical and legal purposes, such as linking a suspect to a crime.

Current Florida Legislature on Autopsy Reports

Florida Statute Section 406.135 explains the process and regulations regarding autopsies. Autopsy reports may be withheld from public disclosure if they contain confidential or exempt information. However, one exception is medical examiner records.

The medical examiner records include autopsy reports, or any other important record created by a medical examiner during a criminal investigation. Only certain individuals are given medical examiner reports, which are either the spouse, next of kin, representing attorney for the estate, law enforcement, or other specified governmental entities.

Florida law specifies that any photo, video, or audio recording of an autopsy held by a medical examiner is considered confidential. Only the surviving spouse, surviving parents, or remaining children are exempt from the confidentiality of an autopsy medical report.

Any person who willfully and knowingly violates Florida law by having any custodian of a photograph, video, or audio recording of an autopsy can be charged with a third-degree felony in Florida. The penalties for a third-degree felony include up to a $5,000 fine and up to five years in prison.

SB 404

A newly proposed bill was introduced at the start of 2023 by the Florida Legislature. SB 404 is titled “Public Records of a Minor/Autopsy Reports of Minors.” The bill is aimed at protecting minors who were killed due to acts of domestic violence.

The new bill will amend Florida Statute Section 119.071 regarding an act relating to public records. Under Section 2 the amended Statute states:

“The Legislature finds that it is a public necessity that photographs and video and audio recordings that depict or record the killing of a minor be made confidential and exempt from [being considered public record under F.S.S. 119.071]…The Legislature finds that photographs and video and audio recordings that depict or record a minor render a graphic and often disturbing visual or aural representation of the deceased. Such [depictions] provide a view of the deceased in the final moments of life, in which they are often bruised, bloodied, broken, and with bullet wounds or other wounds…[such depictions] are highly sensitive representations of the deceased, which, if heard, viewed, or copied, or publicized, could result in trauma, sorrow, humiliation, or emotional injury to the immediate family of the deceased…The Legislature is [also] concerned that the release of these photographs and video and audio records may educe violent acts by persons who have mental illness or are morally corrupt.”

To receive an autopsy report of a minor who died from domestic violence, the surviving parent who did not commit the act of domestic violence must be provided with a reasonable notice of a petition filed with the court to view or review the autopsy report.

SB 404 passed the Senate in a 39-0 unanimous vote earlier this month and has been “ordered enrolled” by the House as of April 27th, 2023. The bill will head to Gov. DeSantis to sign next.

Reinhart Case

SB 404 has another title in honor of the case it was created for: “The Rex and Brody Act.” In May 2021, Paul Otto Reinhart, 46, fatally shot his two sons before turning the gun on himself and burning their family vacation home down. Investigative records indicate that the murders happened after Reinhart learned about an extramarital affair.

Minde O’Sullivan, the boys’ mother, spoke to dispatchers during the frantic search for her family. When they questioned whether her husband owned a firearm, she assured 911 dispatchers that he did not. However, it wasn’t until detectives searched the burned-down home that they discovered two 9mm Glock pistols Reinhart had purchased two weeks prior.

The sons’ autopsies were released to the public and revealed the father had shot both sons prior to turning the gun on himself and setting the house on fire. Their autopsies were publicized under Florida’s public records law in August 2021, despite investigators not yet releasing any details on the boys’ cause of death.

O’Sullivan expressed to lawmakers that she did not wish to learn of her sons’ deaths but had to anyways since the autopsies were released to the public. Since then, O’Sullivan has pleaded alongside Florida Legislature to draft a bill to ensure no other surviving parents have to deal with the same pain she did.

One of SB 404’s representatives, Rep. Charles Clemons, says he looks forward to the bill getting signed into law, to prevent young friends from learning the details of a murder, such as Rex and Brody’s case.

“Think about the psychological impact and the hurt it has [caused] not only those young boys but for the surviving parents, the grandparents, the friends, the close-knit community—it’s all out there and it’s out there forever,” Clemons said.

Finding a Defense Attorney in Tallahassee, Florida

If you or a loved one are facing criminal charges, contact a criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. Working with an experienced attorney can positively impact your case in many ways. You would have a legal professional on your side, to answer any questions or concerns. In addition, you can rest knowing you have a lawyer who is ready to fight vigorously to defend your case.

Don Pumphrey has worked with Florida citizens for years, working to get their charges lessened or dismissed completely. Contact the team at Pumphrey Law Firm today and receive a free consultation regarding your case. Call us at (850) 681-7777 or leave an online message on our website.

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