Statutes Relating to the Office of the Coroner

Section 1237. Coroner’s Investigations

(a) The Coroner having a view of the body shall investigate the facts and circumstances concerning deaths which appear to have happened within the county, regardless where the cause thereof may have occurred, for the purpose of determining whether or not an autopsy should be conducted or an inquest thereof should be had, in the following cases:

  1. sudden deaths not caused by readily recognizable disease, or wherein the cause of death cannot be properly certified by a physician on the basis of prior recent medical attendance;
  2. deaths occurring under suspicious circumstances, including those where alcohol, drugs or other toxic substances may have had a direct bearing on the outcome;
  3. deaths occurring as a result of violence or trauma, whether apparently homicidal, suicidal or accidental (including, but not limited to, those due to mechanical, thermal, chemical, electrical or radiational injury, drowning, cave-ins and subsidence’s);
  4. any death in which trauma, chemical injury, drug overdose or reaction to drugs or medication or medical treatment was a primary or secondary, direct or indirect, contributory, aggravating or precipitating cause of death;
  5. operative and peri-operative deaths in which the death is not readily explainable on the basis of prior disease;
  6. any death wherein the body is unidentified or unclaimed;
  7. deaths known or suspected as due to contagious disease and constituting a public hazard;
  8. deaths occurring in prison or a penal institution or while in the custody of the police;
  9. deaths of persons whose bodies are to be cremated, buried at sea or otherwise disposed of so as to be thereafter unavailable for examination;
  10. sudden infant death syndrome; and
  11. stillbirths.

 

(b) The purpose of the investigation shall be to determine the cause of any such death and to determine whether or not there is sufficient reason for the Coroner to believe that any such death may have resulted from criminal acts or criminal neglect of persons other than the deceased.

(c) As part of this investigation, the Coroner shall determine the identity of the deceased and notify the next of kin of the deceased.

Section 1238. Autopsy

If, upon investigation, the Coroner shall be unable to determine the cause and manner of death, he shall perform or order an autopsy.    

Section 1239. Sudden Deaths Defined

The Coroner shall regard any death as sudden if it occurs without prior medical attendance by a person who may lawfully execute a certificate of death in this Commonwealth, or if, within twenty-four hours of death, the decedent was discharged from such medical attendance had occurred, or if any such medical attendance began within twenty-four hours of death and the medical attendant refuses or is unable to certify the cause of death. Medical attendance Includes hospitalization. The provisions of this section shall not be construed to affect the Coroner’s discretion as to whether or not any death was suspicious, nor shall they be construed to authorize a Coroner to investigate a sudden death any further than necessary to determine the cause and manner of death.

Section 1240. Bodies not to be Moved

In all cases where the Coroner has jurisdiction to investigate the facts and circumstances of death, the body and its surroundings shall be left untouched until the Coroner has had a view thereof or until he shall otherwise direct or authorize, except as may be otherwise provided by law, or as circumstances may require. Bodies upon a public thoroughfare or in other places may be removed so much as is necessary for precaution against traffic accidents or other serious consequences, which might reasonably be anticipated if they were left intact.

Sections 1237/1238/1239/1240 As amended 1990, Nov. 29, P.L. 602, No. 152, Sec. 3

Section 1241. Release of Coroner’s Jurisdiction

Whenever the Coroner assumes jurisdiction of a body pursuant to the provisions of this subsection or of any other law, the body shall not be released or removed from his jurisdiction except upon his direction and consent, in accordance with law.

1955, Aug.9, P.L. 323, Sec. 1242 

Section 1234. Ambulance          

The county commissioners may furnish and maintain, with resources from the county’s general funds, a vehicle for the Coroner to remove the bodies of deceased persons to and from hospital morgues.

As amended 1990, Nov. 29, P.L. 602, No. 152, Sec 1

Section 9525.3. Elected Coroner’s To Take Course of  Instruction and Pass Examination

(a) Successful examination. After the effective date of this act, no person elected for the first time to the office of Coroner in this Commonwealth shall be eligible to take the oath of office unless he has attended the course of instruction and successfully passed the examination given at the conclusion thereof unless, for just cause, the board postpones his attendance and examination. In the event the person so elected fails in either of these respects without being excused, there shall be deemed to be a vacancy in the office and it shall be filled in accordance with law. No person having served as Coroner in Pennsylvania prior to the effective date of this act shall be required to attend instructions or pass this examination if re-elected or appointed subsequent to the effective date of this act. This provision shall also apply to chief deputies and full-time deputies who have been appointed prior to the effective date of this act. 

1988, March 2,P.L. 108, No. 22, Sec. 5.

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