The function of the coroner's office is to determine cause, manner and circumstance of death under the Georgia Death Investigation Act. The coroner is elected at large to a four year term.
Deaths Investigated by the Coroner
The coroner is required to investigate when a person dies:
- After birth but before seven years of age if the death is unexpected or unexplained
- After having been admitted to a hospital in an unconscious state and without regaining consciousness within 24 hours of admission
- As a result of an execution carried out pursuant to the death penalty
- As a result of violence
- By suicide or casualty
- In any suspicious or unusual manner, with particular attention to those persons 16 years of age and under
- Suddenly when in apparent good health
- When an inmate of a state hospital or a state, county, or city penal institution
- When unattended by a physician
Regulations & Release Procedures
Coroners may pronounce someone dead under certain conditions at the scene of death. Coroners must authorize a release of bodies before they can be cremated, transported across the state line or autopsied.
The Coroner's Office is part of the judicial system and has the power of subpoena. The coroner's office may conduct court in the form of an inquest to help determine cause of death and the outcome may be used for criminal procedures. The coroner is often called upon as a witness in criminal court.
Unexplained Deaths of Children
Autopsies are not mandatory to determine cause of death except in situations where death cannot be reasonably explained, or the death is a child under the age of 7. In 1990, the Georgia General Assembly enacted legislation that required each county in the state to establish a committee to develop local protocols to prevent child abuse. These "Child Abuse Protocol Committees" were also instructed to review unexpected or unexplained deaths of children under the age of 18, determine if any could have been prevented, and make recommendations to prevent future child deaths. The coroner serves on this committee.
Determinations for Manner of Death
There are five determinations for manner of death:
- Accidental - an unintended death
- Homicide - the death was caused by the actions of another person
- Natural - the death was from diseases or medical conditions such as cancer or heart attack
- Suicide - a death that is intentionally self-inflicted
- Undetermined - there is little or no evidence to establish, with medical certainty, the cause of death
Before they can take office, all coroners are required to attend a 40-hour course offered by the Georgia Police Academy at the Georgia Pubic Safety Training Center in Forsyth and receive 24 hours of in-service training each year on various death investigation procedures.
Interesting Facts & Myths
- Myth: The coroner cannot arrest the sheriff, but the coroner is the only person who can serve a warrant on the sheriff at the direction of the probate judge.
- Fact: Until the late 1970s, the coroner had arresting powers as a constable.
- Myth: The coroner does not perform autopsies, they must be performed by a licensed pathologist.
- Fact: The coroner is required to function as acting sheriff in the event the sheriff is unable to fulfill his duty under the direction of the superior court judge until a sheriff can be appointed.