A coroner is an elected official (usually at the county level) who is responsible for the investigation of deaths occurring within a specific jurisdiction, as required by law. Specifically, coroners are responsible for conducting investigations to determine cause and mode of death. Their work requires them to be on call 24 hours a day, 365 days per year.
Coroners are called upon to direct the activities of a number of forensic professionals, including investigators, forensic pathologists, toxicologists, forensic technicians, and staff physicians. The activities of these professionals, through the coroner’s inquest, are directed to investigate the circumstances surrounding a suspicious, violent, or accidental death and determine the cause and the responsible parties for the death.
Depending on their background, educational accomplishments, jurisdictional area they serve, their title, or their elected position, a coroner may be one of more of the following:
- Medical Legal Investigator
- Medical Examiner
- Forensic Pathologist
- Elected County Coroner/Chief Medical Examiner
- District Medical Examiner
- Deputy Coroner
- County Coroner
- Coroner/Medical Examiner
- Chief Deputy Coroner
The tasks of a coroner may be fairly broad, as they may include:
- Initiating investigations at crime scenes to determine cause of death
- Overseeing the collection of physical, scientific and pathological evidence
- Receiving and studying death reports from physicians and law enforcement agencies
- Requesting and studying the medical histories of the deceased to aid in the cause and manner of death
- Conferring with public health and law enforcement agencies
- Conducting preliminary examinations to locate signs of trauma and identify characteristics that would indicate the time of death
- Establishing the identities of deceased persons
- Completing death certificates, which include the cause and manner of death
- Observing and recording bodies and related evidence
- Interviewing witnesses who were present at the time of death
- Arranging for the notification of the next of kin of the deceased
- Ordering autopsies and directing the activities of all crime scene and forensic professionals performing pathological testing on the deceased
- Completing reports required to perform investigations or finalize cases
- Testifying in court
- Supervising deputy coroners and administrative personnel within the coroner’s office
Minimum Requirements for Coroner Jobs
There are no set requirements to become a coroner regarding education and experience. However, a candidate’s resume should clearly detail knowledge of:
- Gathering information
- Interviewing techniques
- Basic rules of evidence
- Medical terminology
- Investigative principles and techniques
Many jurisdictions require coroners to meet the minimum standards for peace officers and pass a POST exam. The majority of coroners possess a college degree with an emphasis on medicine or other scientific field, although coroners, depending on the jurisdiction, may be funeral directors, businessmen, or farmers, for example. There are a few states that require coroners to be licensed physicians, although just as many states do not require coroners to have any medical training at all.
Coroners are most often initially hired as deputy coroners, who must successfully complete a probationary period and specific, on-the-job training to achieve higher-level coroner jobs.
Specialized Training for Coroners
Depending on the jurisdiction, coroners may be required to become certified death investigators through such associations as the American Board of Medicolegal Death Investigators, which offers both basic certification and advanced board certification programs.
To qualify for basic certification, candidates must:
- Be at least 18 years old
- Possess a high school diploma or GED
- Be currently employed as a medical examiner or coroner and have the major job responsibility of conducting death scene in investigations
- Have at least 640 hours of death investigation experience
Further, individuals must successfully pass the Registry Examination, which is a 240, multiple-choice examination that covers technical information, principles and problem-solving for death investigators, and factual knowledge. Examination topics include:
- Interacting with Families
- Identifying and Preserving Evidence
- Interacting with Federal, State and Local Agencies
- Maintaining Ethical and Legal Responsibilities
- Demonstrating Scientific Knowledge
- Coping with Job-Related Stress
- Investigating Deaths
Salary Expectations for Coroners
A recent job posting reveals a salary range for a deputy coroner of between $47,080 and $63,225 in Champaign County, Illinois, while another posting reports a salary range of $37,062 and $47,293 for coroners in Sacramento County, California.
Some jurisdictions set salary ranges for coroners, while some states set salaries for all jurisdictions in the state.
For example, in Ohio coroner salaries depend on the population of the jurisdiction and whether the coroner is a practicing physician with a private practice. Coroners with a private practice may earn between $18,842 and $64,451, while coroners without a private practice may earn between $98,689 and $103,480.
The American Job Center Network reported an average annual salary for coroners of $62,020.