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Statutes Relating to the Office of the Coroner

Statutes Relating to the Office of the Coroner


(a) Duty - The coroner having a view of the body shall investigate the facts and circumstances concerning a death that appears to have happened within the county, notwithstanding where the cause of the death may have occurred, for the purpose of determining whether or not an autopsy or inquest should be conducted in the following cases:

(1) A sudden death not caused by a readily recognizable disease or, if the cause of death cannot be properly certified, by a physician on the basis of prior recent medical attendance.

(2) A death occurring under suspicious circumstances, including if alcohol, a drug or another toxic substance may have had a direct bearing on the outcome.

(3) A death occurring as a result of violence or trauma, whether apparently homicidal, suicidal or accidental, including, but not limited to, a death due to mechanical, thermal, chemical, electrical or radiational injury, drowning, cave-in or subsidence.

(4) A death in which trauma, chemical injury, drug overdose or reaction to a drug or medication or medical treatment was a primary or secondary, direct or indirect, contributory, aggravating or precipitating cause of death.

(5) A perioperative death in which the death is not readily explainable on the basis of prior disease.

(6) A death in which the body is unidentified or unclaimed.

(7) A death known or suspected to be due to contagious disease and constituting a public hazard.

(8) A death occurring in prison or a penal institution or while in the custody of the police.

(9) A death of an individual whose body is to be cremated, buried at sea or otherwise disposed of so as to be unavailable for examination thereafter.

(10) A sudden and unexplained infant death.

(11) A stillbirth.

(B) Purpose - The purpose of an investigation under subsection (a) shall be to determine:

(1) The cause and manner of the death.

(2) Whether or not there is sufficient reason for the coroner to believe that the death may have resulted from a criminal act or criminal neglect of a person other than the deceased.

(C) Requirements - As part of an investigation under subsection (a), the coroner shall determine the identity of the deceased and notify the next of kin of the deceased.


(a) General rule.

The coroner shall regard a death as sudden if:

(1) The death occurs without prior medical attendance by an individual who may lawfully execute a certificate of death in this Commonwealth.

(2) Within 24 hours of death the decedent:

(i) was discharged from medical attendance;

(ii) had a change of medical attendance occur; or

(iii) had medical attendance and the medical attendant refuses or is unable to certify the cause of death.

(b) Construction - This section shall not be construed to affect the coroner's discretion as to whether or not a death was suspicious or to authorize a coroner to investigate a sudden death further than necessary to determine the cause and manner of death.

(c) Definition - As used in this section, the phrase "medical attendance" shall include treatment or care at a facility providing medical services, including a hospital, nursing home and hospice service.


(a) General rule - Except as provided under subsection (b), if a coroner has jurisdiction to investigate the facts and circumstances of death, the body and the surroundings of the body shall be left untouched until either:

(1) The coroner has conducted an initial investigation of the scene of death, including viewing and photographing the scene in the manner that most fully discloses how the individual died.

(2) The coroner directs or authorizes the touching of the body and the surroundings of the body, except as provided by law or as circumstances may require.

(b) Exception - A body on a public thoroughfare or other place may be moved if necessary for the administration of emergency care and as a precaution against a traffic accident or another serious consequence that might reasonably be anticipated if the body was left in place. The removal of the body shall be done so as to not substantially destroy or alter possible evidence.

History and the appellate courts in Pennsylvania have determined the Coroner is a member of the Law Enforcement Team, possessing Criminal Investigation powers.

For more information please visit: www.pacoroners.org