The function of the Coroner's Office is to determine cause, manner and circumstance of death under guidelines established by the Georgia Death Investigation Act. The coroner works closely with local law enforcement and the GBI medical examiner to make this determination.
Any death that is unexpected, unexplainable or unattended by a physician, including homicide, suicide and accidental death, falls under a coroner's jurisdiction for investigation. 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.
The coroner performs scene investigations, medical history reviews and identifications of the deceased as well as conducts or arranges for notification of the family, and arranges for an autopsy if necessary. The coroner is also responsible for the safeguard of personal affects found on the deceased, and their release to the next of kin or appropriate legal representative.
The coroner's investigation is independent of the police and/or fire department but is done in conjunction with both departments.
The coroner’s office operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The coroner and his staff investigate cases of homicide, suicide, accidental death, and all natural deaths that are sudden, unexpected, or medically unattended.
The Georgia Death Investigation Act requires that the coroner or county medical examiner of the county where the body is found or the death occurs be notified and that a medical examiner's inquiry be made in all deaths that occur in this state that meet the following criteria:
- As a result of violence
- By suicide or casualty
- Suddenly when in apparent good health
- When unattended by a physician, no person shall be deemed to have died unattended when the death occurred while the person was a patient of a hospice licensed under Article 9 of Chapter 7 of Title 31 of the Georgia Code
- In any suspicious or unusual manner, with particular sttention to those persons 16 years-of-age and under
- After birth but before seven years of age if the death is unexpected or unexplained
- As a result of an execution carried out pursuant to the imposition of the death penalty under Article 2 of Chapter 10 of Title 17
- When an inmate of a state hospital or a state, county, or city penal institution
- After having been admitted to a hospital in an unconscious state and without regaining consciousness within 24 hours of admission
All coroners and deputy coroners in Georgia must initially take a 40-hour training course at the Georgia Public Safety Training Center. They are then required to complete 24 hours of re-certification training every year on various topics ranging from scene investigation, photography, blood spatter analysis and other similar topics.
When it is necessary for this office to order a post-mortem examination, it is vital in determining the cause and manner of death of the deceased. When ordered by this office, a charge is never incurred by the family and is only performed by a board-certified forensic pathologist.
Manners of Death
There are five determinations for manner of 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.
- Accidental - an unintended death.
- Suicide - a death that is intentionally self-inflicted.
- Undetermined - there is little or no evidence to establish, with medical.
Homicide vs. Murder
Many people, including the media, confuse the terms homicide and murder. Murder is a criminal charge or the unlawful taking of a human life by another. After the medical examiner determines the manner of death to be a homicide, then law enforcement investigates that death to determine if there is probable cause to bring the criminal charge of murder against the person who caused the death.
While all murders are homicides, not all homicides are murders. If a homeowner, fearful for his or her life, kills an intruder or a law enforcement officer kills someone in the line of duty, both are considered homicides but not necessarily murder.