Georgia

Coroner/Medical Examiner Laws

Medicolegal Death Investigation System

Is medical death investigation system centralized, county-based, or district-based?
County-based. Ga. Code Ann. § 45-16-80.

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.

Coroners are elected, commissioned . . .; and coroners shall hold their offices for four years . . . Notwithstanding any other provision of law, any person holding office as the mayor of a municipality with a population of 5,000 or less according to the United States decennial census of 1980 or any future such census is specifically authorized to serve simultaneously as coroner; and any person holding the office of coroner is specifically authorized to serve simultaneously as mayor of a municipality with a population of 5,000 or less according to the United States decennial census of 1980 or any future such census. Ga. Code Ann. § 45-16-1.

In any county of this state the General Assembly by local law is authorized to abolish the office of coroner and establish in lieu thereof the office of medical examiner, which medical examiner shall have the qualifications, powers, and duties provided in this Code section, and who shall be appointed and compensated and have the expenses of office paid as provided in this Code section . . . Ga. Code Ann. § 45-16-80.

“In practice” notes
None.

Is there a state medical examiner?
Yes. Ga. Code Ann. § 35-3-153.

If so, what is the state medical examiner’s role?
(a) Within the division there shall be an office of chief medical examiner.

(b) The chief medical examiner shall be appointed by the director. No person may be the chief medical examiner unless that person at the time of appointment is a pathologist certified in forensic pathology by the American Board of Pathology.

(c) It shall be the duty of the chief medical examiner to:

(1) Establish death investigation regions throughout the state and establish policies concerning the requirements for appointment of regional medical examiners to oversee death investigation activities in each established region;

(2) Appoint regional medical examiners;

(3) Employ forensic consultants and other independent contractors with the approval of the division director;

(4) Organize and conduct regular educational sessions as may be needed for medical examiners and coroners in the state in cooperation with the Georgia Coroner’s Training Council and the Georgia Police Academy;

(5) Maintain permanent death investigation records for all jurisdictions in the state;

(6) Establish death investigation guidelines for coroners and medical examiners; and

(7) Cooperate with other state agencies, as appropriate, to ensure public health and safety.

Ga. Code Ann. § 35-3-153.

In what department or agency is the state medical examiner’s office located?
Georgia Bureau of Investigation. Ga. Code Ann. § 35-3-153.

Are there deputies?
The county governing authority shall after consulting with the coroner, if any, be authorized to appoint one or more local medical examiners who shall be licensed physicians or pathologists. The chief medical examiner may, at the request of a county governing authority, authorize one or more licensed physicians or pathologists at convenient locations throughout the state to act as local medical examiners in performing medical examiners’ inquiries as required by this article . . . Ga. Code Ann. § 45-16-22.

Notwithstanding any other provision of this chapter, any coroner or county medical examiner may delegate to a local medical examiner, forensic consultant, or medical examiner’s investigator the power to perform those duties of such coroner or medical examiner specified in this Code section if the person to whom such power is thus delegated meets the applicable requirements of this Code section for the performance of such duties . . . Ga. Code Ann. § 45-16-23.

It shall be the duty of the chief medical examiner to [a]ppoint regional medical examiners . . . Ga. Code Ann. § 35-3-153.

(a) [A]t the beginning of each term . . . the coroner of each county shall appoint a deputy coroner or coroners as provided in this Code section. A deputy coroner shall be appointed for each county, and one or more additional deputy coroners may be appointed for any county, in the discretion of the coroner . . . (c) Notwithstanding any law to the contrary, there shall be appointed only one deputy coroner, and, on and after July 1, 1999, there shall only be one deputy coroner in each such county unless otherwise approved by the local governing authority of the county. Ga. Code Ann. § 45-16-7.

If so, what are the deputies’ roles?
[R]egional medical examiners [are] to oversee death investigation activities in each established region . . . Ga. Code Ann. § 35-3-153.

Each deputy coroner shall . . . have the same powers as the coroner; but a deputy coroner shall act as coroner only when the coroner is himself unable to act. Ga. Code Ann. § 45-16-7.

What are the qualifications for deputies?
(b) A local medical examiner shall be a licensed physician appointed by the state medical examiner to perform scene investigations, external examinations, limited dissections, autopsies, or any combination of such duties.

(c) A forensic consultant shall be an expert in a field of forensic science, including but not limited to odontology or anthropology, appointed and authorized by the state medical examiner to examine human remains and evidence under the medical examiner’s jurisdiction.

Ga. Code Ann. § 45-16-23.

During every calendar year they are in office, every coroner and deputy coroner shall be required, as a condition of continuing to serve as coroner, to take a training course approved by the Georgia Coroner’s Training Council pursuant to Code Section 45-16-66 . . . Ga. Code Ann. § 45-16-6.

For each calendar year following the year of Initial certification, each certified coroner and deputy coroner shall complete 24 hours of additional training in approved courses in order to maintain such certification. Ga. Code Ann. § 112-2-.04.

Qualifications, Term of Office, and Training

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

Ga. Code Ann. § 45-16-1; Ga. Code Ann. § 45-16-80.

If so, how many years is the term of office?
Four. Ga. Code Ann. § 45-16-1.

What are the qualifications specified by law?
(b)(1) No person shall be eligible to offer for election to or to hold the office of coroner unless he or she:

(A) Is a citizen of the United States;

(B) Is a resident of the county in which he or she seeks the office of coroner for at least two years prior to his or her qualifying for the election to the office and remains a resident of such county during his or her term of office;

(C) Is a registered voter;

(D) Has attained the age of 25 years prior to the date of the general primary in the year he or she qualifies for election to the office;

(E) Has obtained a high school diploma or its recognized equivalent. This subparagraph shall not apply to any person serving as a coroner on July 1, 1980;

(F) Has not been convicted of a felony offense or any offense involving moral turpitude contrary to the laws of this state, any other state, or the United States; and

(G) Has successfully completed the next scheduled class no longer than 180 days after such person’s election or appointment a basic training course provided by the Georgia Police Academy, but the affidavit required by paragraph (2) of this subsection shall not be required to affirm that the requirements of this subparagraph have been met at the time of qualifying for the office of coroner . . .

Ga. Code Ann. § 45-16-1.

During every calendar year they are in office, every coroner and deputy coroner shall be required, as a condition of continuing to serve as coroner, to take a training course approved by the Georgia Coroner’s Training Council pursuant to Code Section 45-16-66 . . . Ga. Code Ann. § 45-16-6.

For each calendar year following the year of Initial certification, each certified coroner and deputy coroner shall complete 24 hours of additional training in approved courses in order to maintain such certification. Ga. Code Ann. § 112-2-.04.

(c) To be eligible for the office of medical examiner, as established pursuant to this Code section, a person shall:

(1) Have a doctor of medicine degree and be licensed to practice medicine under the provisions of Chapter 34 of Title 43;

(2) Be eligible for certification by the American Board of Pathology; and

(3) Have at least one year of medico-legal training or one year of active experience in a scientific field in which legal or judicial procedures are involved at the county, state, or federal level. . . .

Ga. Code Ann. § 45-16-80.

Investigations/Autopsies

What types of deaths are required to be investigated?
(a) When any person dies in any county in this state:

(1) As a result of violence;

(2) By suicide or casualty;

(3) Suddenly when in apparent good health;

(4) When unattended by a physician;

(5) In any suspicious or unusual manner, with particular attention to those persons 16 years of age and under;

(6) After birth but before seven years of age if the death is unexpected or unexplained;

(7) As a result of an execution carried out pursuant to the imposition of the death penalty under Article 2 of Chapter 10 of Title 17;

(8) When an inmate of a state hospital or a state, county, or city penal institution; or

(9) After having been admitted to a hospital in an unconscious state and without regaining consciousness within 24 hours of admission, it shall be the duty of any law enforcement officer or other person having knowledge of such death to notify immediately the coroner or county medical examiner of the county in which the acts or events resulting in the death occurred or the body is found. For the purposes of this Code section, no person shall be deemed to have died unattended when the death occurred while the person was a patient of a hospice licensed under Article 9 of Chapter 7 of Title 31.

(b) A coroner or county medical examiner who is notified of a death pursuant to subsection (a) of this Code section shall order a medical examiner’s inquiry of that death.

Ga. Code Ann. § 45-16-24.

What types of deaths are required to be autopsied?
Except as otherwise provided in this article, it shall be in the sole discretion of the medical examiner to determine whether or not an autopsy or limited dissection is required; provided, however, that the medical examiner shall give due consideration to the opinions of the coroner and the peace officer in charge regarding the requirements of accepted investigation techniques and the rules of evidence applicable thereto. Ga. Code Ann. § 45-16-22.

Where a coroner or county medical examiner has been notified pursuant to paragraph (6) of subsection (a) of Code Section 45-16-24 of the death of any person after birth but before seven years of age whose death is unexpected or unexplained, the medical examiner’s inquiry required . . .  shall include an autopsy unless that inquiry shows that such death was expected or explainable with a reasonable degree of medical certainty. Ga. Code Ann. § 45-16-27.1.

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

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Page last reviewed: January 15, 2015