Coroners investigate deaths within a legal jurisdiction, determining the cause of death and responsibility for violent, accidental and unexplained deaths. They direct autopsies, pathological and toxicological analyses, and inquests.
Coroners may visit crime scenes to gather visual and physical evidence. They identify the deceased, record death certificates and notify next of kin. They also coordinate with other public health and law enforcement agencies, and testify at inquests, hearings and court trials.
Duties and responsibilities
- Visit crime scene and observe the condition and position of the body and other evidence
- Observe, document and preserve any personal property or relevant objects related to the death
- Coordinating with other law enforcement, remove or supervise removal of body from crime scene
- Interview people present at death scenes for information on the manner of death
- Examine and inventory all personal effects recovered from the body
- Perform medicolegal examinations and autopsies if required
- Supervise workers performing autopsies as well as pathological and toxicological analyses
- Investigate and order tests, such as finger printing, to identify deceased
- Establish next of kin, deliver notification and deceased's personal effects according to procedure
- Examine all evidence, documentation and witness statements to determine cause of death
- Complete death certificates, including manner and cause of death
- Coordinate with other law enforcement agencies, complete reports needed to finalise cases
- Facilitate the disposition of unclaimed corpses and personal effects
- Collect wills, burial details and other documents needed for investigation and handling of remains
- Testify at inquests, hearings and court trials
- Witness and certify deaths that result from a judicial order
Skills and knowledge
AVERAGE WORKING HOURS
Coroners typically work full time, with many hours doing administrative tasks in an office. You may also spend time in a lab or morgue. Coroners may also be called to a suspicious death or crime scene at any hour.
In remote and low-crime areas, coroners may work on a part-time or fee-per-case basis.
Some coroners also perform autopsies, and may be exposed to gases, fumes and odours as well as disease and infections. Crime scenes may include extreme temperatures and other environmental difficulties, but law enforcement will ensure the area is safe before the coroner arrives.
Annual salary estimates are based on percentile wage data collected through the Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) survey of US workers.
Specialised coroner training programme
Coroner qualifications vary widely by state and county. Many are elected officials without any medical training and no educational requirements. They typically appoint a licensed medical examiner to conduct autopsies and other tests.
The most advanced requirements for a coroner are a medical degree and specialised coursework in forensic pathology. You may be required to be certified by the American Board of Pathology. This provides the proper training to conduct autopsies and correctly interpret evidence in suspicious death cases.
For all coroners, some coursework in forensic science, medicine and criminal justice is advisable. Training programmes are available through the National Association of Medical Examiners (NAME) and the American Academy of Forensic Sciences (AAFS).
You may also be required to be licensed by the state. Check with your state's licensing board. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also offers a comprehensive reference of state's individual requirements for training and certification of coroners.
Medical professionals as well as those in the legal and criminal justice system may advance to the position of coroner. This can happen through appointment or after winning a local election.
Attaining a medical degree and experience in the medical or forensic fields offers more opportunities for a prestigious coroner position. Those who do exemplary work in smaller communities may be recruited for more challenging roles in busier cities.