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bones at the end of the first year, and progresses from that time on until ossification is completed. The epiphyses of all the long bones are usually found united to their shafts in the male at about twenty-four years, in the female at about twenty-two years. After ossification has once been completed it is extremely difficult, if possible, to determine exactly the age from an examination of the skeleton
alone. It may be mentioned, however, that the bones of the sternum (Fig. 7) are usually found ununited until after forty,' those of the sacrum (Fig. 8) and os coccygis until sixty years of age. The height of a body may be
1 Guy and Ferrier: Principles of Forensic Medicine, London, 1881, 36; Wharton and Stillé: Medical Jurisprudence, 3 vols., fourth edition, Philadelphia, 1884, vol. iii. p. 470.
approximately estimated from the skeleton, the latter being entire, by placing the bones in position and adding from one inch and a half to two inches to the length to supply the missing soft parts. In the absence of the skull there should be added about ten inches to the height of the spine of the seventh cervical vertebræ from the ground.
A skeleton may be identified as that of some particular person many years even after death through the presence of deformities, fractures, callus, etc. The production of callus is the result of the reparative process that takes place in the case of fractured bones, and its presence proves that some time must have elapsed between the time of fracture and death. The absence of such callus in cases of death following fractures would clearly indicate that death followed soon after the injury causing the fracture, and that in the case of fracture of the skull the injury was the cause of death. Under certain circumstances it may become a matter of importance to determine from an examination of the skeleton alone the length of time that the body has been buried. It may be said that ordinarily within ten years after burial the soft parts of a body entirely disappear; the bones, however, may resist decomposition for thirty or forty years, particularly if the surrounding soil is dry. It is well known, however, that the skeletons of individuals buried in leaden or in stone coffins have been found in a tolerable state of preservation even after a lapse of more than a thousand years.
Medical Witnesses at the Inquest.-After the coroner has held his inquest, and the coroner's physician and the witnesses have given their testimony, and the jury submitted their verdict, the defendant, in case of the verdict being guilty, is then remanded to the district attorney's office. The case then comes up before the grand jury, to
which the coroner's physician states substantially what he has already said at the coroner's inquest. If the grand jury finds a true bill the case then goes to court; the trial is set for a certain day, is finally held, and the coroner's physician is subpoenaed for the third time to appear in
If the court is aware that the coroner's physician or any of the medical experts engaged in the case have large practice or are connected as lecturers with any particular medical schools, etc., it is very considerate, as a general rule, arranging its business so as to inconvenience them as little as possible. It is incumbent, however, upon the physician, whether he be the coroner's physician or retained as an expert for the defence, to treat the court with every possible respect, to be always punctual in attendance, and if he be unavoidably delayed by professional exigencies, to send the court word explaining the cause of non-attendance. The court, however, will not submit to any of the physicians subpoenaed straggling in at any hour of the day with no excuse to offer for their non-attendance but detention by their every-day practice.
Conduct of Medical Witnesses in Court.-At the trial, the medical witness, if he be the coroner's physician, is examined first by the prosecution, by the district attorney. Having given testimony, he is cross-examined by the counsel for the defence, and is then usually re-examined by the district attorney, and here as a rule, the examination ends. In giving evidence in court, the medical witness should always maintain a dignified, composed demeanor. He should never be arrogant or show any irritability, still less lose his temper, however much he may be annoyed by the examination or cross-examination. He should never forget that the object of the
prosecution is to elicit all the evidence that will lead to conviction; the object of the defence to try to rebut, break down all that the prosecution hopes to establish. The medical witness should so answer that he can be heard by the whole court, addressing himself more particularly to the jury. His answers should be brief and given in the simplest language, all technical terms being avoided as much as possible. Finally, the medical witness should never be ashamed of saying in open court that he does not know. The court does not expect the medical witness to know everything. Nothing is more foolish for a witness than to hazard a guess in answer to a question for fear of being thought ignorant.
Dying declarations, it may be mentioned in this connection, are accepted in law as evidence without being sworn to. It is naturally presumed that all statements made at such a solemn crisis must be sincere, believed at least to be true by the dying person even if subsequently shown not to be so. The attending physician under such circumstances having expressed the opinion that the patient is dying and in sound mind, a magistrate should be summoned to take down any statements that the dying person may wish to make. Should it not be possible to obtain the services of a magistrate, then the attending physician can take down the dying declarations. The physician should, however, limit himself to writing down the exact words of the dying person without offering any interpretation whatever. The statement should be read over to the dying person and if possible his signature to it obtained.
Medico-legal Definition of Wounds-Comparison of Wounds with Weapon inflicting them and Clothes of Deceased-Incised, Contused, Penetrating Wounds-Suicidal, Homicidal, Accidental Wounds— Gunshot Wounds-Causes of Death from Wounds.
Medico-Legal Definition of Wounds.-A wound, from a purely surgical point of view, is regarded as a solution of continuity of the soft parts occasioned by external violence. The medico-legal idea of a wound is, however, far more comprehensive, embracing all injuries of the body, external or internal, with or without a solution of continuity of the skin, produced suddenly by external violence.1 As the danger of a wound will depend on the age and constitution of the person, its position, the weapon by which it was inflicted, the amount of hemorrhage, and numerous other circumstances, it is impossible for a physician to state positively whether a wound will prove fatal or not. Wounds at first apparently trivial have subsequently, in many cases, as is well known, been the cause of death. The medical witness should, therefore, express himself most cautiously if he replies at all to the questions so often asked, "Will such a wound prove fatal?" "Was such a wound necessarily mortal?"
In making a post-mortem examination in cases where death is due to wounds, it is most important that the medical examiner should satisfy himself, not only that the wound was the cause of death, but also that the remaining organs were healthy, or at least were not in such a condition that death could be attributed in any way to them, or
1 Beck, T. B. and J. B.: Elements of Medical Jurisprudence, eleventh edition, Philadelphia, 1860, p. 282.