Virginia

Coroner/Medical Examiner Laws

Is medical death investigation system centralized, county-based, or district-based?
Centralized. Va. Code Ann. § 32.1-277.

If centralized, in which department or agency is the system housed?
Department of Health. Va. Code Ann. § 32.1-277.

Does the state system have a coroner, medical examiner, or coroners and medical examiners? 
Medical examiner. Va. Code Ann. § 32.1-278.

“In practice” notes
None.

Is there a state medical examiner?
Yes. Va. Code Ann. § 32.1-278.

If so, what is the state medical examiner’s role?
A. The Chief Medical Examiner shall carry out the provisions of this article under the direction of the Commissioner. The central and district offices and facilities established as provided in § 32.1-277 shall be under the supervision of the Chief Medical Examiner.

B. The Chief Medical Examiner and his assistants shall be available to Virginia Commonwealth University, the University of Virginia, the Eastern Virginia Medical School, and other institutions of higher education providing instruction in health science or law for teaching legal medicine and other subjects related to their duties.

Va. Code Ann. § 32.1-279.

In what department or agency is the state medical examiner’s office located?
Department of Health. Va. Code Ann. § 32.1-277.

Are there deputies?
The Chief Medical Examiner, with the approval of the Commissioner, may employ forensic pathologists to serve as Assistant Chief Medical Examiners in the central and district offices established as provided in § 32.1-277. Va. Code Ann. § 32.1-280.

The Chief Medical Examiner shall appoint for each county and city one or more medical examiners . . . Va. Code Ann. § 32.1-282.

In the investigation of any death or for the performance of any autopsy authorized or required pursuant to this article, the Commissioner may, in addition to the central and district office personnel and medical investigators, employ . . . a qualified pathologist, designated by the Chief Medical Examiner, to perform such autopsy or to make such pathological studies and investigations as may be deemed necessary or advisable by the Chief Medical Examiner and may arrange for the use of mortuary facilities. Va. Code Ann. § 32.1-281.

If so, what are the deputies’ roles?
[Q]ualified pathologist, designated by the Chief Medical Examiner, to perform such autopsy or to make such pathological studies and investigations as may be deemed necessary or advisable by the Chief Medical Examiner . . . Va. Code Ann. 
§ 32.1-281.

What are the qualifications for deputies?
[F]orensic pathologists [may] serve as Assistant Chief Medical Examiners . . . Va. Code Ann. § 32.1-280.

Each [county or city] medical examiner shall be licensed to practice medicine in this Commonwealth and shall be appointed from a list of two or more nominations submitted by the medical society for the county or city for which the appointment is to be made. If no list of names is submitted, the Chief Medical Examiner shall select the medical examiner or medical examiners. Va. Code Ann. § 32.1-282.

Is the coroner or medical examiner position elected?
No. Va. Code Ann. § 32.1-282.

If so, how many years is the term of office?
Not applicable.

What are the qualifications specified by law?
Chief Medical Examiner . . . shall be a forensic pathologist licensed to practice medicine in this Commonwealth . . . Va. Code Ann. § 32.1-278.

What types of deaths are required to be investigated?
A. Upon the death of any person from trauma, injury, violence, poisoning, accident, suicide or homicide, or suddenly when in apparent good health, or when unattended by a physician, or in jail, prison, other correctional institution or in police custody, or who is an individual receiving services in a state hospital or training center operated by the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services, or suddenly as an apparent result of fire, or in any suspicious, unusual or unnatural manner, or the sudden death of any infant less than 18 months of age whose death is suspected to be attributable to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), the medical examiner of the county or city in which death occurs shall be notified by the physician in attendance, hospital, law-enforcement officer, funeral director or any other person having knowledge of such death . . .

B. Upon being notified of a death as provided in subsection A, the medical examiner shall take charge of the dead body, make an investigation into the cause and manner of death, reduce his findings to writing, and promptly make a full report to the Chief Medical Examiner.

Va. Code Ann. § 32.1-283.

What types of deaths are required to be autopsied?
If, in the opinion of the medical examiner investigating the death or of the Chief Medical Examiner, it is advisable and in the public interest that an autopsy be made or if an autopsy is requested by the attorney for the Commonwealth or by a judge of the circuit court of the county or city wherein such body is or where death occurred or wherein any injury contributing to or causing death was sustained, an autopsy shall be performed by the Chief Medical Examiner, an assistant chief medical examiner or a pathologist employed as provided in § 32.1-281. Va. Code Ann. § 32.1-285.

An autopsy shall be performed in the case of any infant death which is suspected to be attributable to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). For the purposes of this section, “Sudden Infant Death Syndrome” (SIDS), a diagnosis of exclusion, means the sudden and unexpected death of an infant less than eighteen months of age whose death remains unexplained after a thorough postmortem examination which includes an autopsy. Va. Code Ann. § 32.1-285.1.

Does the state require that pathologists perform the autopsies?
Yes. In the investigation of any death or for the performance of any autopsy authorized or required pursuant to this article, the Commissioner may . . . employ . . . a qualified pathologist, designated by the Chief Medical Examiner, to perform such autopsy or to make such pathological studies and investigations as may be deemed necessary or advisable by the Chief Medical Examiner and may arrange for the use of mortuary facilities. Va. Code Ann. § 32.1-281.

Page last reviewed: January 1, 2014