130A-389.1. Photographs and video or audio recordings made pursuant to autopsy.

(a) Except as otherwise provided by law, any person may inspect and examine original photographs or video or audio recordings of an autopsy performed pursuant to G.S. 130A-389(a) at reasonable times and under reasonable supervision of the custodian of the photographs or recordings. Except as otherwise provided by this section, no custodian of the original recorded images shall furnish copies of photographs or video or audio recordings of an autopsy to the public. For purposes of this section, the Chief Medical Examiner shall be the custodian of all autopsy photographs or video or audio recordings unless the photographs or recordings were taken by or at the direction of an investigating medical examiner and the investigating medical examiner retains the original photographs or recordings. If the investigating medical examiner has retained the original photographs or recordings, then the investigating medical examiner is the custodian of the photographs or video or audio recordings and must allow the public to inspect and examine them in accordance with this subsection.

(b) The following public officials may obtain copies of autopsy photographs or video or audio recordings for official use only. These public officials shall not disclose the photographs or video or audio recordings to the public except as provided by law:

(1) The Chief Medical Examiner or a pathologist designated by the Chief Medical Examiner.

(2) Investigating Medical Examiner.

(3) District attorney.

(4) Superior court judge.

(5) Law enforcement officials conducting an investigation relating to the death.

A public official authorized by this subsection to obtain copies may provide a copy of the photograph or videotape to another person for the sole purpose of aiding in the identification of the deceased through publication of the photograph or videotape.

(c) The following persons may obtain copies of autopsy photographs or video or audio recordings but may not disclose the photographs or video or audio recordings to the public unless otherwise authorized by law:

(1) The personal representative of the estate of the deceased.

(2) A person authorized by an order issued in a special proceeding pursuant to subsection (d) of this section.

(3) A physician licensed to practice in North Carolina who uses a copy of the photographs or video or audio recording to confer with attorneys or others with a bona fide professional need to use or understand forensic science, provided that the physician promptly returns the copy to the custodian.

(4) After redacting all information identifying the decedent, including name, address, and social security number, and after anonymizing any physical recognition, a medical examiner, coroner, physician, or their designee who uses such material for:

a. Medical or scientific teaching or training purposes;

b. Teaching or training of law enforcement personnel;

c. Teaching or training of attorneys or others with a bona fide professional need to use or understand forensic science;

d. Conferring with medical or scientific experts in the field of forensic science; or

e. Publication in a scientific or medical journal or textbook.

A medical examiner, coroner, or physician who has in good faith complied with this subsection shall not be subject to any penalty under this section.

Any person who lawfully obtains a copy of a photograph or video or audio recording pursuant to this subsection shall be required to sign a statement acknowledging that they have received notice that any unauthorized disclosure of the photograph or video or audio recording is a Class 2 misdemeanor.

(d) A person who is denied access to copies of photographs or video or audio recordings, or who is restricted in the use the person may make of the photographs or video or audio recordings under this section, may commence a special proceeding in accordance with Article 33 of Chapter 1 of the General Statutes. Upon a showing of good cause, the clerk may issue an order authorizing the person to copy or disclose a photograph or video or audio recording of an autopsy and may prescribe any restrictions or stipulations that the clerk deems appropriate. In determining good cause, the clerk shall consider whether the disclosure is necessary for the public evaluation of governmental performance; the seriousness of the intrusion into the family's right to privacy and whether the disclosure is the least intrusive means available; and the availability of similar information in other public records, regardless of form. In all cases, the viewing, copying, listening to, or other handling of a photograph or video or audio recording of an autopsy shall be under the direct supervision of the Chief Medical Examiner or the Chief Medical Examiner's designee. A party aggrieved by an order of the clerk may appeal to the appropriate court in accordance with Article 27A of Chapter 1 of the General Statutes.

(e) The petitioner shall provide reasonable notice of the commencement of a special proceeding, as authorized by subsection (d) of this section, and reasonable notice of the opportunity to be present and heard at any hearing on the matter in accordance with Rule 5 of the Rules of Civil Procedure. The notice shall be provided to the personal representative of the estate of the deceased, if any, and to the surviving spouse of the deceased. If there is no surviving spouse, then the notice shall be provided to the deceased's parents, and if the deceased has no living parent, then to the adult child of the deceased or to the guardian or custodian of a minor child of the deceased.

(f) This section does not apply to the use of autopsy photographs or video or audio recordings in a criminal, civil, or administrative proceeding except that nothing in this section prohibits a court or presiding officer, upon good cause shown, from restricting or otherwise controlling the disclosure to persons other than the parties and attorneys to the proceeding of an autopsy, crime scene, or similar photograph or video or audio recordings in the manner provided under this section.

(g) Any person who willfully and knowingly violates this section is guilty of a Class 2 misdemeanor, provided that more than one disclosure of the same item by the same person is not a separate offense.

(h) Any person not authorized by this section to obtain a copy of an autopsy photograph or video or audio recording, who knowingly and willfully removes, copies, or otherwise creates an image of an autopsy photograph or video or audio recording with intent to steal the same, is guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor. (2005-393, s. 3.)