South Dakota

Coroner/Medical Examiner Laws

Medicolegal Death Investigation System

Is medical death investigation system centralized, county-based, or district-based?
County-based. S.D. Codified Laws § 7-7-1.1.

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. S.D. Codified Laws § 7-7-1.1.

“In practice” notes

Is there a state medical examiner?

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?
The coroner may appoint one or more deputies and each deputy shall receive fees and expenses as determined at the discretion of the board of the county commissioners. The deputy coroner may not receive a salary. S.D. Codified Laws § 7-14-9.

If so, what are the deputies’ roles?

What are the qualifications for deputies?

Qualifications, Term of Office, and Training

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

Unless otherwise provided by county charter, at primary and general election there shall be nominated and elected in each organized county of this state . . . [i]n 1976 and each fourth year thereafter . . . [a] coroner. S.D. Codified Laws § 7-7-1.1.

[T]he board of county commissioners in any county with a population of seventy-five thousand or more may, by resolution, appoint a coroner who shall serve at the pleasure of such board. S.D. Codified Laws § 7-7-1.4.

If so, how many years is the term of office?
Four. S.D. Codified Laws § 7-7-1.1.

What are the qualifications specified by law?
Each newly selected county coroner shall participate in the training program established by the Law Enforcement Officers Standards Commission within one year of taking office. Each county coroner shall participate in and successfully complete an advanced or refresher training established by the commission at least every two years. S.D. Codified Laws § 7-14-10.

The Law Enforcement Officers Standards Commission shall establish a training program for county coroners. The county coroner training shall include training programs concerning scene investigation and death registration. The commission shall establish and maintain a county coroner training program in consultation with the Department of Health and the county coroners and through such agencies and institutions as the commission may deem appropriate. S.D. Codified Laws § 23-3-71.


What types of deaths are required to be investigated?
The county coroner shall investigate any human death if a determination of the cause and manner of death is in the public interest . . . Deaths which are in the public interest, without limitation, are:

(1) All deaths by unnatural means or if there is a suspicion of unnatural means, including all deaths of accidental, homicidal, suicidal, and undetermined manner, regardless of suspected criminal involvement in the death;

(2) All deaths where the identity of the victim is unknown or the body is unclaimed;

(3) All deaths of inmates of any state, county, or municipally operated correctional facility, mental institution, or special school;

(4) All deaths believed to represent a public health hazard;

(5) At the discretion of the coroner, all deaths of children under two years of age resulting from an unknown cause or if the circumstances surrounding the death indicate that sudden infant death syndrome may be the cause of death; and

(6) All natural deaths if the decedent is not under the care of a physician, physician’s assistant, or nurse practitioner or if the decedent’s physician, physician’s assistant, or nurse practitioner does not feel qualified to sign the death certificate. However, the lack of an attending physician may not be construed to require an investigation or autopsy solely because the decedent was under treatment by prayer or spiritual means alone in accordance with the tenets and practices of a recognized church or religious denomination.

S.D. Codified Laws § 23-14-18.

What types of deaths are required to be autopsied?
If a state’s attorney or a sheriff or a coroner has reason to believe that a deceased person may have died in his or her jurisdiction by unlawful means, the state’s attorney, sheriff, or coroner may order and direct a physician or surgeon to perform an autopsy. If in the public interest, the county coroner may order an autopsy on those deaths falling within the county coroner’s jurisdiction mentioned in subdivisions 23-14-18(1) to (5), inclusive. S.D. Codified Laws § 23-14-9.1.

Does the state require that pathologists perform the autopsies?

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