California

Coroner/Medical Examiner Laws

Medicolegal Death Investigation System

Is medical death investigation system centralized, county-based, or district-based?
County-based. Cal. Gov’t Code § 24010.

If centralized, in which department or agency is the system housed?
Not applicable.

Does the state system have a coroner, medical examiner, or coroners and medical examiners?
Coroners and medical examiners. Notwithstanding any other provision of law, the board of supervisors may by ordinance abolish the office of coroner and provide instead for the office of medical examiner, to be appointed by the said board and to exercise the powers and perform the duties of the coroner. Cal. Gov’t Code § 24010 [Title 3, Government of Counties].

Notwithstanding the provisions of Section 24300, in counties of the 11th class, the board of supervisors by ordinance may consolidate the duties of certain of the county offices, in one or both of these combinations:

(a) County clerk, assessor, and recorder.

(b) Sheriff, coroner, and public administrator.

Cal. Gov’t Code § 24304.1.

“In practice” notes
None.

Is there a state medical examiner?
No.

If so, what is the state medical examiner’s role?
Not applicable.

In what department or agency is the state medical examiner’s office located?
Not applicable.

Are there deputies?
Every county or district officer, except a supervisor or judicial officer, may appoint as many deputies as are necessary for the prompt and faithful discharge of the duties of his office. Cal. Gov’t Code § 24101.

If so, what are the deputies’ roles?
If the coroner is absent or unable to attend, the duties of his office may be discharged by any of his deputies with like authority and subject to the same obligations and penalties as the coroner. Cal. Gov’t Code § 27530.

What are the qualifications for deputies?
Unspecified.

Qualifications, Term of Office, and Training

Is the coroner or medical examiner position elected?
Coroners: appointed or elected
Medical examiners: appointed

[T]he board of supervisors may by ordinance abolish the office of coroner and provide instead for the office of medical examiner, to be appointed by the said board and to exercise the powers and perform the duties of the coroner. Cal. Gov’t Code § 24010.

(a) Except as provided in subdivision (b), the county officers to be elected by the people are the treasurer, county clerk, auditor, sheriff, tax collector, district attorney, recorder, assessor, public administrator, and coroner.

(b) Except for those officers named in subdivision (b) of Section 1 of Article XI of the California Constitution, any county office that is required to be elective may become an appointive office pursuant to this subdivision. In order to change an office from elective to appointive, a proposal shall be presented to the voters of the county and approved by a majority of the votes cast on the proposition . . .

Cal. Gov’t Code § 24009.

If so, how many years is the term of office?
Unspecified.

What are the qualifications specified by law?
The medical examiner shall be a licensed physician and surgeon duly qualified as a specialist in pathology. Cal. Gov’t Code § 24010.

Investigations/Autopsies

What types of deaths are required to be investigated?
It shall be the duty of the coroner to inquire into and determine the circumstances, manner, and cause of all violent, sudden, or unusual deaths; unattended deaths; deaths where the deceased has not been attended by either a physician or a registered nurse, who is a member of a hospice care interdisciplinary team . . . in the 20 days before death; deaths related to or following known or suspected self-induced or criminal abortion; known or suspected homicide, suicide, or accidental poisoning; deaths known or suspected as resulting in whole or in part from or related to accident or injury either old or recent; deaths due to drowning, fire, hanging, gunshot, stabbing, cutting, exposure, starvation, acute alcoholism, drug addiction, strangulation, aspiration, or where the suspected cause of death is sudden infant death syndrome; death in whole or in part occasioned by criminal means; deaths associated with a known or alleged rape or crime against nature; deaths in prison or while under sentence; deaths known or suspected as due to contagious disease and constituting a public hazard; deaths from occupational diseases or occupational hazards; deaths of patients in state mental hospitals serving the mentally disabled and operated by the State Department of State Hospitals; deaths of patients in state hospitals serving the developmentally disabled and operated by the State Department of Developmental Services; deaths under such circumstances as to afford a reasonable ground to suspect that the death was caused by the criminal act of another; and any deaths reported by physicians or other persons having knowledge of death for inquiry by coroner. . . The coroner shall have discretion to determine the extent of inquiry to be made into any death occurring under natural circumstances and falling within the provisions of this section . . . For the purpose of inquiry, the coroner shall have the right to exhume the body of a deceased person when necessary to discharge the responsibilities set forth in this section. Cal. Gov’t Code § 27491.

What types of deaths are required to be autopsied?
[T]he coroner shall, within 24 hours, or as soon thereafter as feasible, perform an autopsy in any case where an infant has died suddenly and unexpectedly. However, if the attending physician desires to certify that the cause of death is sudden infant death syndrome, an autopsy may be performed at the discretion of the coroner. If the coroner performs an autopsy pursuant to this section, he or she shall also certify the cause of death . . . Cal. Gov’t Code § 27491.41.

For purposes of inquiry the coroner shall, within 24 hours or as soon as feasible thereafter, where the suspected cause of death is sudden infant death syndrome and, in all other cases, the coroner may, in his or her discretion, take possession of the body, which shall include the authority to exhume the body, order it removed to a convenient place, and make or cause to be made a postmortem examination or autopsy thereon, and make or cause to be made an analysis of the stomach, stomach contents, blood, organs, fluids, or tissues of the body . . . The coroner shall have the right to retain only those tissues of the body removed at the time of the autopsy as may, in his or her opinion, be necessary or advisable to the inquiry into the case, or for the verification of his or her findings . . . Nothing in this section shall be deemed to prohibit the discretion of the coroner to conduct autopsies upon any victim of sudden, unexpected, or unexplained death or any death known or suspected of resulting from an accident, suicide, or apparent criminal means, or other death, as described in Section 27491. Cal. Gov’t Code § 27491.4.

Does the state require that pathologists perform the autopsies?
No.

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Page last reviewed: January 15, 2015