Public official whose principal duty is to inquire into any death that appears to be unnatural. The name of the office as it emerged in England in the late 12th century was originally “crowner” (also called “coronator”), a reference to the coroner's principal duty of protecting the crown's property. By the late 19th century, the coroner's role had shifted to that of conducting inquests into unnatural deaths. In Canada, all coroners are appointed. In the U.S., the office is elective or appointive, depending on the jurisdiction. Coroners often possess both legal and medical qualifications, but the office is sometimes filled by laypersons, including undertakers, sheriffs, and justices of the peace. In many states the office has been replaced by that of the medical examiner, who is usually a licensed pathologist.
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Depending on the jurisdiction, the coroner may adjudge the cause himself, or act as the presiding officer of a special court (a "coroner's jury"). In some countries, coroners have additional investigatory roles. For example, in the United Kingdom under the Treasure Act 1996 a coroner will determine the most likely manner in which treasure came to be in the place where it was found (whether it was lost or hidden) which will determine the legal entitlements to the treasure trove.
A coroner is not necessarily a medical examiner. Medical examiners are medical doctors who have specialised in anatomical- or forensic pathology. In the UK however, all one needs is a medical degree, plus additional training in the law, thus a coroner need not necessarily be a qualified pathologist themselves. Additionally some UK coroners will not have formal medical qualifications but will instead be members of the legal profession. In countries such as the US, where the coroner is an elected, political position, a coroner need not be a medical examiner, though many are. In other areas, including certain Canadian provinces, all the roles of the coroner are assigned to the medical examiner.
In all states and territories of Australia, the office of coroner continues to this day.
Coroners in Canada are under the jurisdiction of Provincial or Territorial Ministries of Public Security (formerly Solicitor General) or Justice. The Chief Coroner (or Chief Medical Examiner) is appointed
Most coroners in Canada are medical doctors with a few exceptions. British Columbia's former coroner Larry Campbell was not a medical doctor, but a police officer.
The office of Coroner was formally established in England by Article 20 of the "Articles of Eyre" in September 1194 to "keep the pleas of the Crown" or in Latin "custos placitorum coronas" from which the word "coroner" is derived. This role provided a local county official whose primary duty was to protect the financial interest of the crown in criminal proceedings. The office of coroner is, "in many instances, a necessary substitute: for if the sheriff is interested in a suit, or if he is of affinity with one of the parties to a suit, the coroner must execute and return the process of the courts of justice. This role was qualified in Chapter 24 of Magna Carta in 1215 which states: "No sheriff, constable, coroner or bailiff shall hold pleas of our Crown". "Keeping the pleas" was an administrative task, while "holding the pleas" was a judicial one which was not assigned to the locally resident coroner but left to judges who travelled around the country holding Assize Courts. The role of Custos rotulorum or keeper of the county records became an independent office which after 1836 was held by the Lord Lieutenant of each county.
The person who found a body whose death was thought to be sudden or unnatural was required to raise the "hue and cry" and to notify the coroner.
Aside from the usual coroners, certain persons are ex officio coroners in limited circumstances—for example the Lord Chancellor has been historically allowed to certify the death of someone killed in rebellion.
"Lawful killing" includes lawful self-defence, or where a doctor lawfully administers a painkiller from which the patient dies.
The Coroner makes orders after considering the pathologist's report.
Coroners in the United States are usually county-level officers, are often elected (rather than appointed) officials, and usually do not need to hold any medical qualification. As finders of fact, they retain quasi-judicial powers such as the power of subpoena, and in some states they also have the power to impanel juries of inquest, but unlike their British equivalents, they are not judicial officers, instead considered to be executive branch officials.
In some states the coroner and the sheriff are one and the same. In some counties, the coroner is the only person with the power to arrest the sheriff.
Many jurisdictions have replaced the elected coroner with a Medical Examiner (often referred to by the initials "M.E."), who must be a physician, and is most often a specialist in pathology or forensic medicine. In some jurisdictions, a medical examiner must be both a doctor and a lawyer.
The medical examiner is most often an appointed official. This has been part of a move toward professionalizing a job increasingly involved with advanced scientific techniques. In larger cities (for instance, New York City) and more populous counties, the post may be that of "chief medical examiner", heading an office with M.E.s and deputy M.E.s on staff to handle individual cases.
Other jurisdictions, such as Monterey County, California, have merged the legal competencies of a coroner into the office of the Sheriff, whose medical duties as coroner are then delegated to a professional forensic staff of medical examiners, technicians, and such.
In some states, additional functions are handled by the coroner. For example, in Louisiana, coroners are involved in determination of mental illness of living persons. In Georgia, the coroner has the same powers as a county sheriff to execute arrest warrants and serve process, and in certain situations where there is no sheriff (described in Title 15, Chapter 16, Section 8 of Georgia law), they officially act as sheriff for the county. In Kentucky, section 72.415 of the Kentucky Revised Statutes gives coroners and their deputies the full power and authority of peace officers. This includes the power of arrest and the authority to carry firearms.
Dr. G: Medical Examiner is a reality television show shown on the Discovery Health Channel that shows dramatic reenactments of autopsies performed by real-life medical examiner Dr. Jan Garavaglia. The shows also include interviews with Dr. Garavaglia, family members, and others connected with the cases she has worked on in Florida and Texas.
Bernard Knight, a former Home Office Pathologist and Professor of Forensic Pathology at the University of Wales College of Medicine is well known for his Crowner (Coroner) John Mysteries series set in 12th century Devon.