Thursday, January 12, 2006

Inquest Day

Today was inquest day. Inquests are jury trials run by the Coroner to determine an individual’s cause and manner of death, a practice going back to the time of King Richard in 1100. While they used to gather around the body of the deceased, we do it in county meeting room. Natural death cases don’t go to inquest, only unnatural deaths: homicide, suicide, accidents and undetermined manners of death. We have a jury of 6 individuals deliberating on the cause and manner of death of 8-9 decedents each inquest day. We do inquests twice monthly on Thursday. The jury’s decisions are based on testimony of my Deputies and our investigation, as well as the testimony of police and other agencies involved in the given case. Various deaths of individuals with different stories involved with each one of them.

Sometimes there can be lawyers attending trying to “practice” later court tactics, points of evidence, trying to get some bit of information not previously in the open.

These can be long tough days for everyone involved. It is hardest on the families that attend. They attend looking for some bit of information, at times still looking for answers of how their loved one died and why they died, also looking for closing that final chapter in a loved one’s life, getting all the work done and the final death certificate can be issued. At times the roiling emotions of the family reach the point of outburst, but can they be blamed? There a few more emotion laden occurrences in life.

The inquests can be hard on the jury members. They see and experience the emotions, they hear the often grim facts, these cases can often hit close to home for them. I have had jurors who realize ½ way through the day that they can listen to no more of this. I have even seen the Court Reporter nearly in tears, quite experienced/seasoned, but the emotional intensity can overwhelm.

Inquests in the Coroner “System” are an interesting system in keeping with its archaic roots, allowing community input into the decision of an individual’s cause and manner of death. Not necessarily the most “efficient” system, but functionally sound and basically a “good” way of getting it done.


chinamom said...

Who is on these inquest juries? Is it possible to observe them? or are they private? Is it possible to be a member of the inquest jury?

Dr. Richard Keller said...

Our inquest juries are selected from the usual County jury pool, form those called by the jury commission each we.

Inquests are "open" and while it is unusual they are "observed".