What is a Coroner's Inquest?
A Coroner’s Inquest is an inquiry
into the manner and cause of an individual’s death, conducted by
the Coroner or Deputy Coroner with a court reporter and six
jurors present. The jurors are citizens of the county in which
the death took place.
The purpose of an inquest is to
present information concerning the victim’s death in order
for the jury to determine the cause and manner of a death. The
cause of death is often readily apparent and obvious, based on
the facts, circumstances, medical evidence and in some cases,
toxicology and autopsy results. The real essence of the jurors’
responsibility is to establish the manner of death (Suicide,
Homicide, Accident, Natural or Undetermined).
The Coroner will summon to the
inquest the individuals who have pertinent information
concerning the incident. This often includes, but is not limited
to, the person who found the deceased, witnesses to the
incident, those involved, police officers and investigators, and
in some instances, a direct relative. Individuals summoned will
present testimony to the jury. Any professional reports
(autopsy, toxicology, x-ray and laboratory reports) will be
presented at that time. These reports are not released to the
public until the inquest procedures are concluded.
All information and testimony at
the inquest is recorded and/or transcribed by a certified court
reporter. The inquest is open to the public and may not be
closed pursuant to any requests to do so. Anyone may attend.
Upon completion of the testimony,
the Coroners jury will deliberate in private. They may request
additional testimony, evidence, or conference as they deem
necessary. When the jury has concluded their deliberations, they
will issue a verdict through the foreman as to the cause and
manner of death( accident, homicide, natural, suicide or
The Corner’s verdict has no civil
or criminal trial significance. The verdict and inquest
proceedings are merely fact finding in nature and statistical in
purpose. However, if a person is implicated as the unlawful
slayer of the deceased or accessory thereto, an arrest may be
affected. This is extremely rare, as this function is now
performed by the State’s Attorney’s grand jury proceedings.
The testimony presented at the
inquest is sworn and under oath and properly documented and/or
recorded. Because of this, testimony may subsequently be used in
perjury proceedings if such testimony should change in future
civil or criminal trial proceedings.