Most people would be surprised to know that many Coroners across the country are elected rather than appointed. It’s often not a merit-based system. Check out our latest job description if you want to find out more about a Coroner’s job and how wildly it can differ across the country.
A coroner is the beating heart of the investigatory process, as ironic as that may sound because the real investigation begins with them. A coroner’s primary job is to determine the time and manner of death, whether that death was a homicide or completely benign.
The term “coroner” is often used interchangeably with the term “medical examiner,” however, the two are separated by educational requirements and, in many states, an election process. A coroner is usually an elected position, whereas some counties in their respective states assign their medical examiners.
In other words, many states don’t require the coroner to have a medical degree, or any other degree for that matter, to perform their duties in that position.
The Positional Nature Of A Coroner
Because most coroners are elected representatives of that position, they don’t necessarily have to qualify “educationally” for the position. A coroner may qualify in other ways but they aren’t bound by the necessity of a Doctor of Medicine Degree.
Despite this, it’s unlikely that an uneducated coroner would be a viable candidate. After all, a coroner may have to engage in activities that would require a healthy knowledge of human anatomy, forensic anthropology, gross dissection, and quantitative analysis.
Typically, a coroner will be proficient in the following:
- Order a police investigation
- Issue grants
- Order an inquest
- Issue a Certificate of Death
- Perform Autopsies
- Deal with the media
Most often, someone in a supervisor position—such as a Sheriff—will be the one who coordinates with local and national news outlets and grapples with public relations matters when it comes to homicides.
However, coroners are often called on to speak at news conferences, mostly at the beginning—when a body is discovered and the news is viral—and at the conclusion of an autopsy. Outside of homicide scenarios, the Coroner’s office is largely hidden away from the public eye.
The more standard, working nature of a Coroner’s position requires a lot of paperwork and legal documentation. A Coroner will often perform autopsies and issue a Certificate of Death, just as a doctor issues a Certificate of Birth.
A Coroner is also at liberty to order an inquest. Inquests are typically ordered if the nature of someone’s death is unknown, or sudden and unexpected. An inquest is almost always ordered from the desk of the Coroner’s office if foul play is suspected.
Coroners can also order a police investigation, such as when the results of the autopsy indicate that a victim did not die of natural causes.
Lastly, the Coroner issues grants from the discretion of the Coroner’s office only. Grants can include things such as the exhumation of a body, cremation, and burial orders. It’s the Coroner’s office that determines whether or not to waive an autopsy or perform one.
What Deaths Do Coroners Investigate?
The Coroner’s office becomes involved if there is an unnatural, unexpected, sudden, or otherwise inexplicable death. Coroners investigate these deaths by issuing a warrant for the possession of a body, authorizing an autopsy, and conducting the autopsy.
Once this happens, it is the Coroner’s responsibility to positively identify the body and determine the manner of death, whether it was foul play, accidental, or natural death.
A coroner can also decide to order an exhumation for the purposes of determining foul play.
After the body is exhumed, the coroner will perform an autopsy and, through forensic analysis, discover something that might have been otherwise missed prior to the initial burial.
Inquests are at the discretion of the Coroner and if it’s determined that foul play was involved in someone’s death, a Coroner can order one. An inquest is a court procedure with a judge and jury similar to that of a trial. However, it’s not a trial and the normal rules of evidence do not apply.
What Other Responsibilities Are Held By A Coroner?
After an autopsy is performed, it is the Coroner’s responsibility to notify the family and return all the possessions of the deceased to the family. If some possessions are a part of an ongoing investigation, the Coroner may hold them until such time as they are no longer needed.
A Coroner is also responsible for notifying the family when the autopsy and/or investigatory process is completed and turning the body over to the funeral home that the family has chosen or prefers.
Coroners also must provide a copy of the full autopsy report to the family of the deceased upon request.
What Does A Coroner Do On A Daily Basis?
Most deaths are investigated to some degree or another by a coroner. Most of the time, it’s just standard procedure. The vast majority of a Coroner’s time is taken up by court filings and proceedings, day-to-day paperwork, and dealing with the human remains that pass in and out of the morgue each day.
Coroners typically have their own, private office in which to work. This is where they will spend much of their time reviewing documentation for the courts, filing paperwork, and filling out Certificates of Death.
Much of what a Coroner’s day-to-day activities include is highly dependent on what kind of Coroner they are.
As aforementioned, a Coroner can be an elected official, which means that their background may have very little or nothing to do with forensic pathology, forensic anthropology, or anything related to investigations whatsoever.
Some Coroners may not perform much in the way of actual investigative work, autopsies, or on-the-scene investigations, instead, focusing more on the paperwork and court dealings.
On the other hand, some Coroners may be required to deal with both the court side of the issue as well as the autopsies and investigative side.
It is also the case that some Coroners actually travel to the scene of a crime or where a body has been discovered. They can take pictures, measurements, and perform a full-fledged investigation outside of their office or the morgue.
The whole of a Coroner’s experience can only be defined by which state and county they live in and whether they are appointed or elected.