A coroner or forensics examiner is an official chiefly responsible for investigating deaths, particularly some of those happening under unusual circumstances, and determining the cause of death.
A qualified coroner in Georgia is a person duly elected or appointed who, except for meeting the training requirements, meets all the qualifications set forth in O.C.G.A. 45-16-1. A qualified deputy coroner is a person duly appointed who, except for meeting the training requirements, meets all the qualifications set forth in O.C.G.A. 45-16-7.
In their examinations of the deceased, forensic pathologists aim to determine the cause and manner of death. Cause is why the person died or the medical reason for the death; that is, the injury or disease responsible for the death. Manner is how the person died or the circumstances that led to the cause of death.
The Georgia Death Investigation Act (O.C.G.A. 45-16-20) 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 attention 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
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 investigate 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.