Coroner and Medicolegal Investigation

The Coroner is charged by law with the responsibility of determining the cause, mode, and manner of death. The determination of the anatomic cause of death is a medical aspect while the legal interest is all-inclusive and requires that all factors of causation, the mode and manner, and the anatomic cause of death, be established. The two aspects are so interrelated that they cannot be separated; therefore equal consideration must be given to the medical and legal phases of investigation. This requires a specialized discipline correlating knowledge of law and medicine in a medicolegal investigation.

As an illustration, consider a medical examination performed merely to determine the anatomic cause of death. In such a case it would be sufficient to establish that a penetrating wound in the heart was the immediate cause of death. However, to determine the mode of death it would be necessary to establish whether that wound was caused by a bullet or a sharp instrument. A thorough autopsy for medicolegal purposes would reveal evidence to make this determination. The next question of legal importance is the manner of death; in other words, how was this wound inflicted or sustained? Was it self-inflicted? If so, was it intentional - that is to say, suicidal - or was it accidental? If inflicted by another person was it accidental or was it homicidal?

Investigation of the scene were the injury was sustained, examination of the evidence found there and statements of witnesses would furnish information as to the circumstances of the incident. Examination of the clothing of the victim as well as through study of the body would yield evidence which could be used to test the reliability of the conclusions based on investigation of the scene and interrogation of witnesses.

The above illustration is a general example of one type of case where investigation must be correlated to arrive at a just decision. In other instances, it may be necessary to acquire information from attending physicians, hospital records, and those acquainted with the decedent. The police, other investigative agencies, and the Coroner must work in close cooperation with one another.