Coroner/Medical Examiner Laws

Medicolegal Death Investigation System

Is medical death investigation system centralized, county-based, or district-based?
County-based. Mont. Code Ann. § 7-4-2901.

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?
Coroner. Mont. Code Ann. § 7-4-2901.

“In practice” notes

Is there a state medical examiner?
Yes. Mont. Code Ann. § 44-3-201.

If so, what is the state medical examiner’s role?
The duties of the state medical examiner include but are not limited to the following:

(1) providing assistance and consultation to associate medical examiners, coroners, and law enforcement officers;

(2) providing court testimony when necessary to accomplish the purposes of this chapter;

(3) stimulating and directing research in the field of forensic pathology;

(4) maintaining an ongoing educational and training program for associate medical examiners, coroners, and law enforcement officers;

(5) appointing associate medical examiners; and

(6) performing autopsies as requested.

Mont. Code Ann. § 44-3-211.

In what department or agency is the state medical examiner’s office located?
Department of Justice. Mont. Code Ann. § 44-3-201.

Are there deputies?
The coroner, with approval of the county commissioners, may appoint one or more deputy coroners . . . Mont. Code Ann. § 7-4-2901.

If so, what are the deputies’ roles?
[T]o assist the coroner or act in the coroner’s absence. Mont. Code Ann. § 7-4-2901.

What are the qualifications for deputies?
Associate medical examiners must be physicians licensed to practice in Montana and may continue their private practice during their appointment. Mont. Code Ann. § 44-3-203.

At the time of appointment, a deputy coroner or acting coroner must meet the qualifications required of a coroner as provided in 7-4-2904(1) and (2)(a). Within a reasonable time after appointment, a deputy shall successfully complete the basic coroner course, as provided for in 7-4-2905(2)(a). The deputy shall also meet the requirements for advanced education as provided in 7-4-2905(2)(b). Mont. Code Ann. § 7-4-2901.

Qualifications, Term of Office, and Training

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

In addition to the qualifications set forth in 7-4-2201, to be eligible for the office of coroner, at the time of election or appointment to office a person must be . . . Mont. Code Ann. § 7-4-2904.

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

What are the qualifications specified by law?
The state medical examiner must be a physician licensed to practice medicine in Montana. Mont. Code Ann. § 44-3-201.

Person is not eligible for a county office who at the time of election is not:

(1) of the voting age required by the Montana constitution;

(2) a citizen of the state; and

(3)(a) an elector of the county in which the duties of the office are to be exercised; or
(b) in the case of an office consolidated between two or more counties, an elector in one of the counties in which the duties of the office are to be exercised.

Mont. Code Ann. § 7-4-2201.

(1) [T]o be eligible for the office of coroner, at the time of election or appointment to office a person must be a high school graduate or holder of an equivalency of completion of secondary education as provided by the superintendent of public instruction under 20-7-131 or of an equivalency issued by another state or jurisdiction.

(2) Each coroner, before entering the duties of office, shall:

. . . certify to the county clerk that:

(i) the individual has satisfactorily completed the basic coroner course of study provided in 7-4-2905 or that the individual has completed the equivalent educational requirements approved by the attorney general; or

(ii) the individual intends to take the basic coroner course at the next offering of the course if the coroner has been appointed or was elected by other than a local government general election and, from the date of appointment or election and assumption of the duties as coroner, a basic coroner course was not offered. A coroner forfeits office for failure to take and satisfactorily complete the next offering of the basic coroner course.

Mont. Code Ann. § 7-4-2904.

Coroner education must be conducted by the Montana public safety officer standards and training council . . . The council shall conduct a 40-hour basic coroner course of study after each general election . . . The council may conduct other basic coroner courses at times it considers appropriate . . . The council shall annually conduct a 16-hour advanced coroner course. Unless there are exigent circumstances, failure of any coroner or deputy coroner to satisfactorily complete the advanced coroner course, or an equivalent course approved by the council, at least once every 2 years results in forfeiture of office . . . Mont. Code Ann. § 7-4-2905.


What types of deaths are required to be investigated?
The coroner shall inquire into and determine the cause and manner of death and all circumstances surrounding a human death:

(1) that was caused or is suspected to have been caused:

(a) in any degree by an injury, either recent or remote in origin; or

(b) by the deceased or any other person that was the result of an act or omission, including but not limited to:

(i) a criminal or suspected criminal act;

(ii) a medically suspicious death, unusual death, or death of unknown circumstances, including any fetal death; or

(iii) an accidental death; or

(c) by an agent, disease, or medical condition that poses a threat to public health;

(2) whenever the death occurred:

(a) while the deceased was incarcerated in a prison or jail or confined to a correctional or detention facility owned and operated by the state or a political subdivision of the state;

(b) while the deceased was in the custody of, or was being taken into the custody of, a law enforcement agency or a peace officer;

(c) during or as a result of the deceased’s employment;

(d) less than 24 hours after the deceased was admitted to a medical facility or if the deceased was dead upon arrival at a medical facility; or

(e) in a manner that was unattended or unwitnessed and the deceased was not attended by a physician at any time in the 30-day period prior to death;

(3) if the dead human body is to be cremated or shipped into the state and lacks proper medical certification or burial or transmit permits; or

(4) that occurred under suspicious circumstances.

Mont. Code Ann. § 46-4-122.

What types of deaths are required to be autopsied?
If in the opinion of the coroner an autopsy is advisable, the coroner shall order one performed on any dead human body for which the death requires an inquiry and shall retain a medical examiner or associate medical examiner to perform it. Performance of autopsies is within the discretion of the coroner except that the county attorney or attorney general may require one. Mont. Code Ann. § 46-4-103.

Does the state require that pathologists perform the autopsies?

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