The importance of the investigation in any death cannot be overemphasized. In medico legal death investigations, the scene is as important as the autopsy. A thorough and complete death scene investigation will generally lead the trained coroner to suspect the proper determination of the cause and/or manner of death without the necessity of an autopsy. A good scene examination and complete history by a trained coroner is vital to reach the proper conclusion concerning the circumstances surrounding the death.
The autopsy is an important tool, but not the only one. The coroner is the central character in medico legal death investigations. He/she is the person who has to put together the information about the scene and the autopsy to rule both the cause and manner of death. The coroner takes the findings from forensic pathologists and law enforcement officials and interjects his/her observations to render a final opinion of the cause and manner of death.
The coroner is responsible for obtaining the relevant medical history of the decedent that may assist in determining the cause of death. They must interview witnesses and relatives about the decedent’s last whereabouts and circumstances surrounding the death. A thorough scene investigation by the coroner is also very important in determining the time of death. Since the determination of time of death is not an accurate science, information obtained and observations made by the coroner are critical in estimating the approximate time of death.
The coroner is also responsible for answering the most important question in a death investigation: the identification of the deceased. No one can be charged with a crime, nor can the family collect on a death insurance policy if the identify of the deceased is unknown. The coroner must ensure that all evidence collected during the medico legal death investigation is collected and maintained in accordance with laws relating to chain of custody. He/she must prepare complete and accurate written documentation of all information obtained during the investigation process.
The coroner must be prepared to give testimony in any court proceeding regarding issues relating to all aspects of the medico legal death investigation.