Coroner's Roles and Responsibilities

At the Death Scene

There is more than meets the eye at a death scene.

What may appear to be a natural death may actually be criminal. An apparent suicide may actually be an accidental death, and a natural death may reveal serious implications for survivors. Beacause of criminal and public health implications, your coroner must treat every death carefully.

Upon first learning that a person in the county has died from violence, casualty, unusual circumstances, suspicious activity or while in apparently good health, the coroner will notify a local law enforcement agency. Together, they investigate the scene. Often, the coroner must restrict access to the death scene in order to properly carry out the investigation. Indiana's county coroner's do not need the family's permission to conduct an investigation, but do hasten to complete their investigations so that the family may grieve in peace.

Do Not Disturb

Proper documentation of the death scene is crucial to the coroner investigation. Knowingly failing to notify the coroner or a law enforcement agency in the case of death that qualifies as a coroner's investigation is a Class B infraction punishable by a fine up to $1000 plus court costs. Moving a body under these conditions is a Class F felony, punishable by imprisonment for up to 3 years and a fine of up to $10,000.

For Survivors

emotions overflow at a death scene.

The situationis tense, uncomfortable, and demanding. The coroner's role is to issue a swift and accurate determination of the cause and manner of death. In his or her efforts to do this a coroner must sometimes restrict access to the scene. Often, survivors direct their anger at investigative personnel when in reality the tension of the situation is at the root of their stress. Cooperation with the coroner at the death scene allows him or her to document evidence which may lead to benefits through governmental agencies or insurance coverage.

As the investigation proceeds, your coroner has powers usually reserved for officers of the court: issuing subpoenas, authorizing autopsies or calling for toxicological examinations of the body. Your coroner's investigation provides answer which help survivors cope with their loss.

Information the coroner is obligated to release

  1. Name, age, race and address of the deceased
  2. Address where the body found
  3. Name of agency to which death was reported
  4. Name of the person reporting death
  5. Name of public official or government employee present at the death scene
  6. Name of person certifying death
  7. Limited information regarding an autopsy: date, person who performed autopsy, where performed, conclusion as to probable cause, probable manner, probable mechanism
  8. Location to which body was removed
  9. Records required under IC 36-2-14-5 and IC 36-2-14-10

Coroner Investigation

Coroners investigate suspicious, unusual or unnatural deaths.
  1. Homicides
  2. Suicides
  3. Accidents
  4. Death by natural causes
  5. Inmate deaths or cases in which cause of death originated while deceased was incarcerated
  6. Deaths caused by diseases that may be public health threats
  7. Deaths of persons whose bodies are to be cremated, buried at sea, transported out of state or otherwise unavailable for pathological study
  8. Deaths of transplant surgery donors that are the result of some type of trauma
The vast majority of coroner investigations are natural deaths, including situatins in which there is no attending physician to sign the death certificate, sudden or unexpected deaths or cases involving alcohol or other drugs of abuse.

Coroner Duties

Identification of the deceased
may be as easy as having a family member at the scene or as difficult as having only a few bones to work with and having to rely on various experts.

Determination of cause of death
the final factor or event that happened to the deceased, or the cascade of events, called the "mechanism" which lead to the cause of death.

Determination of mannor of death
homicide, suicide, accident, natural, undetermined.

The coroner may order an autopsy, which must be done by a board ceritied pathologist. The coroner is responsible for all personal property of the deceased. Property is to be protected until a legal next of kin is identified. If no heir is forthcoming, the material possessions are turned over to the county treasurer and the sheriff for sale and distribution to the county general fund.