Coroner/Medical Examiner Laws
Is medical death investigation system centralized, county-based, or district-based?
County-based. 53 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 3092.
If centralized, in which department or agency is the system housed?
Does the state system have a coroner, medical examiner, or coroners and medical examiners?
Coroners and medical examiners. The coroner or medical examiner shall be a statutory office elected at the municipal election and shall hold the office for the term of four years, beginning on the first Monday of January next after election, and until his successor is duly qualified. 53 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 3092.
“In practice” notes
Is there a state medical examiner?
If so, what is the state medical examiner’s role?
In what department or agency is the state medical examiner’s office located?
Are there deputies?
The coroner may appoint one or more deputies to act in his place and stead, as he may deem proper and necessary. 16 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 1231.
If so, what are the deputies’ roles?
[T]o act in [the coroner’s] place and stead, as [the coroner] may deem proper and necessary. Such deputy or deputies shall have the same powers as the coroner. 16 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 1231.
What are the qualifications for deputies?
Is the coroner or medical examiner position elected?
Yes. 53 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 3092.
If so, how many years is the term of office?
Four. 53 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 3092.
What are the qualifications specified by law?
No person shall be elected to any county office, except the office of district attorney otherwise provided for by this act, unless he shall be at least eighteen years of age, a citizen of the United States and a resident of the county, and shall have resided within the county for one year next preceding his election. 16 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 13.
After the effective date of this act, no person elected for the first time to the office of coroner in this Commonwealth shall be eligible to take the oath of office unless he has attended the course of instruction and successfully passed the examination given at the conclusion thereof unless, for just cause, the board postpones his attendance and examination. In the event the person so elected fails in either of these respects without being excused, there shall be deemed to be a vacancy in the office, and it shall be filled in accordance with law. No person having served as coroner in Pennsylvania prior to the effective date of this act shall be required to attend instructions or pass this examination if reelected or appointed subsequent to the effective date of this act. This provision shall also apply to chief deputies and full-time deputies who have been appointed prior to the effective date of this act. 16 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 9525.3.
Newly elected coroners and newly appointed chief deputy and full-time deputy coroners shall attend the Basic Education Course and pass the examination.
(1) The Basic Education Course is a minimum 32 hours of instruction given between the date of each municipal election and December 31 of that year.
(2) The course of instruction includes subjects such crime-scene investigation, toxicology, forensic autopsies and the legal duties of a coroner.
(3) A written examination is given at the conclusion of the course. 37 Pa. Code § 199.21.
A licensed forensic pathologist may be exempt from the requirement of attendance at the Basic Education Course and completion of the examination. 37 Pa. Code § 199.24.
Coroners and deputy coroners are required to obtain a minimum of 8 hours of continuing education credits in each calendar year. Continuing education credits are to be obtained in subject areas relevant to the statutorily defined duties of coroners and deputy coroners. 37 Pa. Code § 199.41.
What types of deaths are required to be investigated?
It shall be the duty of the coroner or the deputy coroner of any county in this Commonwealth, in all cases where death is sudden or violent or is of a suspicious nature and character, to cause a careful investigation of the facts concerning said death to be made, to ascertain whether the death was due to other than natural causes . . . 16 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 9521.
(a) The coroner having a view of the body shall investigate the facts and circumstances concerning deaths which appear to have happened within the county, regardless where the cause thereof may have occurred, for the purpose of determining whether or not an autopsy should be conducted or an inquest thereof should be had, in the following cases:
(1) sudden deaths not caused by readily recognizable disease, or wherein the cause of death cannot be properly certified by a physician on the basis of prior (recent) medical attendance;
(2) deaths occurring under suspicious circumstances, including those where alcohol, drugs or other toxic substances may have had a direct bearing on the outcome;
(3) deaths occurring as a result of violence or trauma, whether apparently homicidal, suicidal or accidental (including, but not limited to, those due to mechanical, thermal, chemical, electrical or radiational injury, drowning, cave-ins and subsidences);
(4) any death in which trauma, chemical injury, drug overdose or reaction to drugs or medication or medical treatment was a primary or secondary, direct or indirect, contributory, aggravating or precipitating cause of death;
(5) operative and peri-operative deaths in which the death is not readily explainable on the basis of prior disease;
(6) any death wherein the body is unidentified or unclaimed;
(7) deaths known or suspected as due to contagious disease and constituting a public hazard;
(8) deaths occurring in prison or a penal institution or while in the custody of the police;
(9) deaths of persons whose bodies are to be cremated, buried at sea or otherwise disposed of so as to be thereafter unavailable for examination;
(10) sudden infant death syndrome; and
(b) The purpose of the investigation shall be to determine the cause of any such death and to determine whether or not there is sufficient reason for the coroner to believe that any such death may have resulted from criminal acts or criminal neglect of persons other than the deceased. 16 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 1237.
The coroner shall regard any death as sudden if it occurs without prior medical attendance by a person who may lawfully execute a certificate of death in this Commonwealth, or if, within twenty-four hours of death, the decedent was discharged from such medical attendance or a change of such medical attendance had occurred, or if any such medical attendance began within twenty-four hours of death and the medical attendant refuses or is unable to certify the cause of death. Medical attendance includes hospitalization.
The provisions of this section shall not be construed to affect the coroner’s discretion as to whether or not any death was suspicious, nor shall they be construed to authorize a coroner to investigate a sudden death any further than necessary to determine the cause and manner of death. 16 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 1239.
What types of deaths are required to be autopsied?
It shall be the duty of the coroner or the deputy coroner of any county in this Commonwealth, in all cases where death is sudden or violent or is of a suspicious nature and character . . . to make or cause to be made such an autopsy as the facts of the case may demand. 16 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 9521.
The coroner having a view of the body shall investigate the facts and circumstances concerning deaths which appear to have happened within the county, regardless where the cause thereof may have occurred, for the purpose of determining whether or not an autopsy should be conducted . . . 16 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 1237.
If, upon investigation, the coroner shall be unable to determine the cause and manner of death, he shall perform or order an autopsy on the body. 16 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 1238.
Does the state require that pathologists perform the autopsies?
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