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Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology Melanie-Angela Neuilly

Faculty and Staff Portraits School of Music

Associate Professor
WSU Pullman
Johnson Tower 721
Curriculum Vitae


Doctorate Human Sciences, 2008, Université de Rennes II, Rennes, France
Ph.D. Criminal Justice, 2007, Rutgers University, New Jersey
M.A. Criminal Justice, 2003, Rutgers University, New Jersey
M.A. Psychology, 2000, Université de Rennes II, Rennes, France
B.A. Psychology, 1999, Université Catholique de l’Ouest, Angers, France


Melanie-Angela Neuilly, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor with the Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology at Washington State University. Prior to joining the department in 2011, Dr. Neuilly taught for five years at the University of Idaho. She received a Ph.D. in Criminal Justice from Rutgers University in 2007, and a Ph.D. in Psychology from the Université de Rennes in France in 2008. She teaches graduate and undergraduate courses on criminological theory, comparative criminal justice, homicide and violent crime, and research methods.

Generally speaking, Dr. Neuilly conducts comparative research on violence and violent death. More specifically, she is interested in issues surrounding measurement and data collection processes, particularly as they pertain to medico-legal practices of classifying death.

Dr. Neuilly is currently spending most of her research time focusing on the analysis of the data collected during her long-term comparative field research on medico-legal practices in France and in the United States. This project was partially funded by a WSU Seed Grant. Over the course of ten years, Dr. Neuilly collected qualitative and quantitative information on investigations and post-mortem examinations of over 700 deaths at four sites: one large medical examiner’s office on the East Coast of the United States, one mid-sized coroner’s office in the American Intermountain West, one mid-sized medico-legal institute in the Western region of France, and one large medico-legal institute in the Southern region of France. Based on these data, Dr. Neuilly has identified the major differences between the medico-legal systems, as well as established influences pertaining to individual medico-legal practitioners’ characteristics.

Dr. Neuilly’s research helped inform SSB 5256 “The Confidentiality of Certain Autopsy and Postmortem Reports and Records,” which was passed during the 2013 Washington State Legislative session.

Aside from her main research focus, Dr. Neuilly also examines how research methodologies influence research findings in criminology, for example when it comes to establishing recidivism risk, or how qualitative methods open up new avenues for criminological research. In addition, Dr. Neuilly is also interested in general theoretical questions as well as feminist theorizations of crime.

Courses Taught

Criminological Theory, Crime Control Policy, Research Methods, Qualitative Methods, Homicide, Comparative Criminal Justice, Criminal Justice Study Abroad.

Research Interests

Lethal violence; public health; medico-legal practices; mortality statistics; comparative criminal justice.

Research Projects

Extent, characteristics, and influence of police involvement in the death certification process in France and in the United States. Homicide investigations start with the sometimes arduous task of identifying whether a death is a crime. For that reason, the involvement of police on death scenes is not limited to suspected homicides. One could argue, however, that to a hammer, everything is a nail, and previous studies have indeed shown that the precision with which death is expected to fit in the categories of homicide, suicide, accident, or natural is socially constructed. This is made particularly evident in an international context. In order to ascertain the possible role of the police in such a social construction of death, the present study analyzes autopsy narratives as well as field notes from four medical examiners’ or coroners’ offices, two located in the U.S., and two in France. Such content analysis reveals points of congruence as well as divergence between sites and countries in the ways in which police get involved in death investigations, the former pointing to some level of universality in the ways deaths are constructed, while the latter are evidence of the relativity of the social construction of death. The analysis also identifies the factors associated with those points of congruence and divergence.

Within and inter-institutional differences between death certifiers on autopsy conclusions (with Ming-Li Hsieh). Homicide statistics are widely viewed as the most reliable crime data, and yet they are not without their limitations. Some of these weaknesses stem from the fact that homicides have to be identified by individual death certifiers, who have different training, and apprehend cases with varied assumptions. The goal of this study is to establish whether death certifiers differ in their autopsy conclusions compared to others in the same medico-legal office, as well as across other medico-legal offices. Data for this study include around 800 autopsy reports written by over 20 death certifiers from four medico-legal offices.

Predictors of violent deaths by types (with Leah Ruiz). While criminologists generally focus on identifying the predictors of homicide, we posit that understanding those within the larger context of other types of violent deaths can provide an enlightening change of focus. This study investigates data on violent deaths, including homicides, accidents, and suicides in order to identify their various predictors. Data for this study come from autopsy reports sampled from a coroner’s and a medical examiner’s offices. The goal of our study is twofold: 1) theory building with regard to the causes of homicide and violent deaths; and 2) refining policy with regard to violent death prevention.

Exploring the Characteristics of Violent Death Reports for Children in the United States (with Brianne M. Posey). While many states and federal agencies share some requirements for reporting child death, there is currently no universal system in the United States. This research has two main goals: 1) examine the details of death reports for children who died under violent circumstances; 2) make recommendations for a more systematic reporting process. To achieve these goals we qualitatively analyze the content of a sample of children death reports compiled from one coroner’s office and one medical examiner’s office. Our exploratory analysis focuses on identifying where information is missing, and create an ideal template in order to improve overall data quality.

A Comprehensive Statute Analysis of Death Certification-Related Matters across all Fifty U.S. States (with Leah Ruiz, Brianne Posey, Craig Hemmens, & Mary Stohr). Autopsy reports are a key component in the operations of the criminal justice system, but also in the development of public health policies. Death certification procedures, however, vary widely across the nation, which some have argued has led to rampant death misclassifications. As medico-legal systems vary state by state, this study provides an exhaustive comparison of state statutes with regard to how death is defined, who can pronounce it, certify it, who conducts autopsies, when autopsies are required, how they can be blocked, and who can override an objection. Statutes are analyzed qualitatively using process tracing and congruence testing in order to establish a baseline of practices in the U.S. and achieve an understanding of the range of variation in those practices. The goal of such an endeavor is to inform policy making as a first step in identifying best practices in death certification.

Deaths Stories: A Qualitative Analysis of Autopsy Narratives (with Brooke Benecke & Olivia Rudisill). Both public health and criminological research heavily rest on the use of mortality statistics. Most often though, it is the numbers that are the focus of such scientific interest, reducing the depth of information present in autopsy files to continuous or dichotomized variables. In the present study, we provide criminologists and public health scientists with a different perspective on mortality data. Drawing from a sample of 720 autopsy reports collected from a coroner’s office and a medical examiner’s office, we present a qualitative content analysis of homicides, suicides, accidents, and natural deaths reports, offering a typology of themes present in each type of deaths. Such a typology provides the basis for further understanding how the death certification process influences the compilation of mortality statistics, which in turn are used in criminological and public health research. As such, we propose that a better understanding of the death certification process can lead to increasing the quality of mortality statistics, and thus the validity of research findings based on those data.

The Deadly Consequences of Childhood Abuse: Adverse Childhood Experiences as Predictors of Untimely Deaths (with Leah Ruiz, Brooke Beneke, & Olivia Rudisill). Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) have been linked to systemic diseases and shorter life expectancy. While medical research on the topic has generally focused on the negative health effects of childhood trauma and abuse, criminologists have focused on their criminogenic effects later in life. For the present research, we use data from 720 autopsy reports sampled from four medico-legal investigative services, two in France and two in the United States in order to marry health and criminal justice. Our goal is to examine ACE as predictors not just of death from systemic diseases such as diabetes or obesity, but also violent deaths such as homicides, suicides, or even accidents. We posit that ACE’s impacts on individuals’ lives participate in precipitating their demise by creating a combination of stressors influencing not only physical health, but also mental health. This can not only lead to criminogenic but also generally high risk and destructive lifestyles, particularly in environments lacking effective social support systems.

All In the Family: Mentions of Family Dynamics in Homicides versus Other Types of Autopsy Reports (with Breanne Posey). As research focusing on the impact of Adverse Childhood Experiences on manner and time of death is gaining in traction, we seek to examine mentions of family dynamics in death reports. For this project, we use a sample of autopsy reports from two United States locations; one coroner’s office in the intermountain west region and one medical examiner’s office in the northeastern region. Using qualitative methods, we assess (1) how often family dynamics are mentioned in reports, (2) in what terms they are mentioned, (3) whether the frequency and themes of family dynamics mentioned in reports vary by type of death (i.e. violent versus non-violent, homicide versus accident, etc.), (4) and if there are differences in reporting practices between medical examiners and coroners offices. The goal of our research is to assess whether autopsy reports can provide enough information pertaining to family dynamics in order to contribute to the research on Adverse Childhood Experiences from a death prevention perspective.

The representation of death as entertainment: Medical examiners as heroes. An important part of leisure implies an intellectual activity centered on the external stimulation of the imagination. Through this activity, individuals can escape everyday life with heroes living extraordinary lives, doing extraordinary deeds, thanks to extraordinary qualities… or they can identify with realistic characters dealing with situations similar to theirs in much the same way they would because they are alike. Who those heroes are and how they position themselves on the fantasy to reality continuum is not without social significance. In this realm of intellectual leisure, death has always had a role of central importance. Heroes, who always have to face death and battle it in order to right social wrongs, have evolved and reflect the times that sprung them. Investigators, attorneys, and medical examiners have replaced kings and knights in shining armors. As professionals of death, medical examiners’ battle is ex post facto, making death and the dead a central feature of the imaginative entertainment. The author proposes to examine the emergence of medical examiners as a new set of popular culture heroes in television programs from “Quincy” to “CSI” & co, “Bones” and “Crossing Jordan.”

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