A coroner is the person who shows up at an accident or crime scene and officially pronounces a victim dead. In certain cases, the coroner performs that task at a hospital and also provides an official time of death. In some counties, a coroner is an elected official who also determines the cause of death, while other counties empower pathologists to announce the cause of death after an autopsy takes place. A coroner's report is a public record that should be included in police and court files. You are entitled to review all of the coroner's findings.
- Skill level:
Things you need
- Freedom of Information Law letter or request form
Organise whatever existing information you have on a coroner's involvement in an accident or crime investigation, which could include car crashes, a fatal fire or a homicide. Note dates and addresses if you have them, as well as the names of any victims, suspects or witnesses. You need a starting point before you ask an official record keeper to sort through potentially hundreds of documents.
Contact the county district attorney or prosecutor's office with the information you have. Often, coroners report to them, and in small, rural counties, the district attorney is also the coroner. They may have the record you are looking for if it isn't part of an ongoing criminal or civil court case. Either way, prepare to provide a Freedom of Information Law request. The request should note the specific document you are seeking, and you'll need to include your contact information in case the agency decides to review your request and take up to 20 days to process it instead of furnishing the record on demand. According to The Free Dictionary, you are not required to indicate why you want the document, but the agency is required to note its reason for denying its release if that's the case.
Proceed to the appropriate court if the district attorney's office does not have the records. In a criminal case, the coroner's documents would be included in a case file that is listed under the defendant's name (the person who was charged with a crime). In a civil case, it would be included in the plaintiff's file, which most likely would be a relative or an associate of the victim.
Tips and warnings
- There are a limited number of provisions for denying a freedom of information request. If law enforcement agencies are still investigating a case, the coroner's reports could be withheld from public inspections.
- Agencies can charge you for copies of documents.
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