Texas

Coroner/Medical Examiner Laws

Medicolegal Death Investigation System

Is medical death investigation system centralized, county-based, or district-based?
County-based. Tex. Crim. Proc. Code Ann. art. 49.04.

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. Justice of the peace or medical examiner. Subject to the provisions of this Act, the Commissioners Court of any county having a population of more than one million and not having a reputable medical school as defined in Articles 4501 and 4503, Revised Civil Statutes of Texas, shall establish and maintain the office of medical examiner, and the Commissioners Court of any county may establish and provide for the maintenance of the office of medical examiner . . . The commissioners courts of two or more counties may enter into an agreement to create a medical examiners district and to jointly operate and maintain the office of medical examiner of the district. Tex. Crim. Proc. Code Ann. art. 49.25.

“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?
(a) The commissioners court of a county may establish an office of death investigator and employ one or more death investigators to provide assistance to those persons in the county who conduct inquests . . . Tex. Crim. Proc. Code Ann. art. 49.23.

The medical examiner may, subject to the approval of the commissioners court, employ such deputy examiners . . . as may be necessary to the proper performance of the duties imposed by this Article upon the medical examiner. Tex. Crim. Proc. Code Ann. art. 49.25.

If so, what are the deputies’ roles?
[T]o provide assistance to those persons in the county who conduct inquests . . . At the request of and under the supervision of a justice of the peace or other person conducting an inquest, a death investigator may assist the person conducting the inquest to investigate the time, place, and manner of death and lock and seal the premises of the deceased. A death investigator who assists in an inquest under this subsection shall make a complete report of the death investigator’s activities, findings, and conclusions to the justice of the peace or other person conducting the inquest not later than eight hours after the death investigator completes the investigation. Tex. Crim. Proc. Code Ann. art. 49.23.

[A]s may be necessary to the proper performance of the duties imposed by this Article upon the medical examiner. Tex. Crim. Proc. Code Ann. art. 49.25.

What are the qualifications for deputies?
To be eligible for employment as a death investigator, a person must have experience or training in investigative procedures concerning the circumstances, manner, and cause of the death of a deceased person . . . Tex. Crim. Proc. Code Ann. art. 49.23.

Qualifications, Term of Office, and Training

Is the coroner or medical examiner position elected?
Justice of the peace: elected
Medical examiner: appointed

Tex. Const. art. V, § 18; Tex. Crim. Proc. Code Ann. art. 49.25.

If so, how many years is the term of office?
Four. Tex. Const. art. V, § 18.

What are the qualifications specified by law?
No person shall be appointed medical examiner unless he is a physician licensed by the State Board of Medical Examiners. To the greatest extent possible, the medical examiner shall be appointed from persons having training and experience in pathology, toxicology, histology and other medico-legal sciences. Tex. Crim. Proc. Code Ann. art. 49.25.

Investigations/Autopsies

What types of deaths are required to be investigated?
(a) A justice of the peace shall conduct an inquest into the death of a person who dies in the county served by the justice if:

(1) the person dies in prison under circumstances other than those described by Section 501.055(b), Government Code, [natural causes attended by physician or executed] or in jail;

(2) the person dies an unnatural death from a cause other than a legal execution;

(3) the body or a body part of a person is found, the cause or circumstances of death are unknown, and:

(A) the person is identified; or

(B) the person is unidentified;

(4) the circumstances of the death indicate that the death may have been caused by unlawful means;

(5) the person commits suicide or the circumstances of the death indicate that the death may have been caused by suicide;

(6) the person dies without having been attended by a physician;

(7) the person dies while attended by a physician who is unable to certify the cause of death and who requests the justice of the peace to conduct an inquest; or

(8) the person is a child younger than six years of age and an inquest is required by Chapter 264, Family Code.

(b) Except as provided by Subsection (c) of this section, a physician who attends the death of a person and who is unable to certify the cause of death shall report the death to the justice of the peace of the precinct where the death occurred and request that the justice conduct an inquest.

(c) If a person dies in a hospital or other institution and an attending physician is unable to certify the cause of death, the superintendent or general manager of the hospital or institution shall report the death to the justice of the peace of the precinct where the hospital or institution is located . . .

Tex. Crim. Proc. Code Ann. art. 49.04.

Death investigations

Sec. 6. (a) Any medical examiner, or his duly authorized deputy, shall be authorized, and it shall be his duty, to hold inquests with or without a jury within his county, in the following cases:

1. When a person shall die within twenty-four hours after admission to a hospital or institution or in prison or in jail;

2. When any person is killed; or from any cause dies an unnatural death, except under sentence of the law; or dies in the absence of one or more good witnesses;

3. When the body or a body part of a person is found, the cause or circumstances of death are unknown, and:

(A) the person is identified; or

(B) the person is unidentified;

4. When the circumstances of the death of any person are such as to lead to suspicion that he came to his death by unlawful means;

5. When any person commits suicide, or the circumstances of his death are such as to lead to suspicion that he committed suicide;

6. When a person dies without having been attended by a duly licensed and practicing physician, and the local health officer or registrar required to report the cause of death under Section 193.005, Health and Safety Code, does not know the cause of death. When the local health officer or registrar of vital statistics whose duty it is to certify the cause of death does not know the cause of death, he shall so notify the medical examiner of the county in which the death occurred and request an inquest;

7. When the person is a child who is younger than six years of age and the death is reported under Chapter 264, Family Code; and

8. When a person dies who has been attended immediately preceding his death by a duly licensed and practicing physician or physicians, and such physician or physicians are not certain as to the cause of death and are unable to certify with certainty the cause of death as required by Section 193.004, Health and Safety Code. In case of such uncertainty the attending physician or physicians, or the superintendent or general manager of the hospital or institution in which the deceased shall have died, shall so report to the medical examiner of the county in which the death occurred, and request an inquest.

Tex. Crim. Proc. Code Ann. art. 49.25.

What types of deaths are required to be autopsied?
(a) At his discretion, a justice of the peace may obtain the opinion of a county health officer or a physician concerning the necessity of obtaining an autopsy in order to determine or confirm the nature and cause of a death . . .

(c) Except as required by Section 264.514, Family Code, for each body that is the subject of an inquest by a justice of the peace, the justice, in the justice’s discretion, shall:

(1) direct a physician to perform an autopsy; or

(2) certify that no autopsy is necessary.

(d) A justice of the peace may not order a person to perform an autopsy on the body of a deceased person whose death was caused by Asiatic cholera, bubonic plague, typhus fever, or smallpox. A justice of the peace may not order a person to perform an autopsy on the body of a deceased person whose death was caused by a communicable disease during a public health disaster.

(e) A justice of the peace shall order an autopsy performed on a body if:

(1) the justice determines that an autopsy is necessary to determine or confirm the nature and cause of death;

(2) the deceased was a child younger than six years of age and the death is determined under Section 264.514, Family Code, to be unexpected or the result of abuse or neglect; or

(3) directed to do so by the district attorney, criminal district attorney, or, if there is no district or criminal district attorney, the county attorney.

(f) A justice of the peace shall request a physician to perform the autopsy . . .

Tex. Crim. Proc. Code Ann. art. 49.10.

If in the opinion of the medical examiner an autopsy is necessary, or if such is requested by the district attorney or criminal district attorney, or county attorney where there is no district attorney or criminal district attorney, the autopsy shall be immediately performed by the medical examiner or a duly authorized deputy. Tex. Crim. Proc. Code Ann. art. 49.25.

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

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Page last reviewed: January 15, 2015