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Electrocution by Taser Is Not Death From Excited Delirium

by Douglas Ankney

A rose by another name may still be a rose, but electrocution by a cop’s taser is deemed death from excited delirium. At least, that was the determination until recently. In March 2023, the National Association of Medical Examiners (“NAME”) said “excited delirium” should not be cited as a cause of death. Instead, “NAME endorses that the underlying cause, natural or unnatural (to include trauma), for the delirious state be determined (if possible) and used for death certification.” Even though not legally binding, NAME joined the American Medical Association and the American Psychiatric Association in not acknowledging excited delirium as a cause of death.

The purported symptoms of excited delirium are a “state of wild agitation or distress, often resulting from illicit drug use.” According to “[t]he controversial term was popularized in the 1980’s by a Miami forensic pathologist who was study[ing] sudden deaths of cocaine users, most of them in police custody.” Almost all of the “excited delirium” victims died after being tased and/or physically restrained by police. Since 2000, excited delirium was named in 276 deaths following the use of a stun gun, suggesting electrocution – not excitement or agitation – was the underlying cause. If cops fire their weapons at a scared teen smoking weed who then runs, trips, hits his head and dies – did he die from drug abuse? Excited feet?

The NAME pronouncement might impact criminal justice reform – maybe cops who kill will no longer be able to evade accountability by dishonest medical examiners claiming excited delirium was the cause of death.  


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