January 1, 2007 has brought about a change in how our office operates. On that day a change in state statute made inquests an option available to the Coroner’s Office instead of a mandate. Inquests are jury trials with the Coroner as “judge” to determine the cause and manner of death for the final death certificate in cases of “non-natural” death (accidents, homicide, suicide, and the like). The cause of death is laid out very plainly by the report of the investigating deputy coroner regarding our office investigation. The main function of the jury is to deliberate and determine the manner of death.
Most cases brought to inquest are quite obvious as to the manner of death (accidents, homicide, or suicide). In those sorts of cases the inquest unfortunately adds a step that is not really needed and delays the final death certificate on which many families depend for settling the estate and insurance.
By eliminating the inquest in those obvious cases, we will be able to generate the final death certificate in much shorter order, without a diminution in the quality of the decision making in arriving at the manner of death.
While this eliminates one of the main distinctions between coroners and medical examiners, I don’t see it as an attempt to become medical examiners. It is clearly an attempt to improve our service to the survivors (family and friends) of decedents whose deaths we investigate every day. Inquest is still an available option.
We, my office, look forward to this improvement in doing our job to the best of our ability.