(Received 8 June 1988; accepted 7 September 1988)
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Five hundred psychological autopsies on equivocal (suicide versus accident) deaths were reviewed to ascertain which factors are significant in making the determination between suicidal and accidental deaths. Factors varied in relative importance according to the method used to cause death. Significant factors included life-style, recent stress, suicidal communications, previous self-destructive behaviors, history of depression, and obvious factors from the physical evidence such as large amounts of drugs in the blood. Although the court-provided decision guideline is “a preponderance of the evidence,” in practice, the assembled evidence is often used to construct a “most credible” scenario to explain the death.
Clinical professor of psychiatry, University of California at Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA
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