Wayne Sanderson
Inquests were fact finding tools...
Sat Jun 04, 13:10

...that were more aimed toward determining the means and manner of death more than any criminal responsibility. The need for them as a civil process was much greater before modern technical means. Many people use the titles Coroner and Medical Examiner interchangeably, but we shouldn't.

Today's Medical Examiners are almost universally MDs and most often are trained, experienced Pathologists, and they have Pathologists working for them who perform autopsies.

Coroners in past eras were elected officials, and interestingly were not always required to have a medical background. In fact, Coroners functioned much more like civil court judges presiding over lawsuits than people who performed post mortem examinations.

Many Inquests were also Autopsies, where the Coroner would empanel the jury, open the proceeding with a stenographer, and then surgeons and/or MDs would perform a post mortem examination of the body right in front of the jury, render their expert opinions before the jury under oath, and the testimony and autopsy would be the evidentiary portion of the proceeding upon which their verdict would be informed.

There were plenty of reasons Coroners Inquests were regularly performed that had nothing to do with crimes. Many jurisdictions by law required the cause of death recorded on death certificates or record books to be an expert opinion or the finding of an inquest. You see similar reasons today for why autopsies are and are not performed. If a doctor signs off on the death record as having been present, in attendance or treating and the death results from a known or treated condition then that fills the expert opinion requirement for the death record, whereas a person who hadn't seen a doctor in years who was found dead unattended would be required to have an autopsy and the pathologist would fill out the death record based on the examination results.

Why did anybody care all that much beyond the obvious reasons like a concealed murder? There were plenty of reasons. In colonial and pre colonial times in England and her possessions, the property of those who committed suicide were forfeit to the Crown- Every farthing, even if that meant it left a family to starve to death. Obviously in such cases if there was any possibility of doubt, the family might benefit from the honest judgment of a Coroners Jury comprised of six solid citizens rather than that of a Crown official who usually pocketed a piece of the seized assets. Life Insurance was another reason- Most policies in past eras would not pay off for suicide and some wouldn't pay UNLESS the death record clearly showed that the death was NOT suicide. An inquest verdict was in such cases binding on the insurance companies, and if they still balked such findings were great ammo for lawsuits to compel payment. Civil War and other government pensions were another consideration.

Sometimes Coroners Inquests were convened to positively and legally identify remains, which would be a big deal if all there was left were bones, cloth scraps and hearsay. An Inquest verdict legally identifying remains might be the difference between a poor widow or orphaned children collecting a pension, bank accounts in probate, life insurance proceeds, or all of the above.


  • Yep!...okay,Joyce A. Aros, Sat Jun 04 11:13
    ...I am catching on. Before you lose complete patience with me, understand that though I lean toward being analytical, my fourth grade education prevents me from understanding some terminology, especially... more
    • Inquests were fact finding tools... — Wayne Sanderson, Sat Jun 04 13:10
      • Okay, Wayne....Joyce A. Aros, Sat Jun 04 17:41
        I am pretty sure you didn't believe me when I said I only have a fourth grade education as I do not understand quite a bit of what you posted for me though I appreciate the information and will file it... more
        • Re: Okay, Wayne....Wayne Sanderson, Sat Jun 04 18:38
          The statute's wording requiring action under certain circumstances was intended to prevent the Coroner from using discretion to NOT hold an inquest, a check against showing favoritism by letting some slide... more
          • Oh Boy!...Joyce A. Aros, Sun Jun 05 14:49
            ...If I were not so intrigued, I would have disappeared a few posts ago, but old folks like me don't always learn and I think you are having some fun with me. I have some homework to do, but though... more
            • Re: Oh Boy!...Wayne Sanderson, Sun Jun 05 15:26
              I do have to go along with you on your opinion of the prosecutors- For seemingly smart guys, they were imbeciles. They trotted out their whole case, witness testimony, strategy and everything at a Preliminary... more
              • One last thought,,,,Joyce A. Aros, Mon Jun 06 8:11
                ...Wayne, I think our discussion has been really worthwhile from my side and I've learned some stuff I had considered but from a slightly different angle. I am not a historian; I tend to examine things... more
            • Re: Oh Boy!...Wayne Sanderson, Sun Jun 05 15:06
              Don't forget how the McLaury brother with the law degree showed up and insinuated himself into the ongoing hearing on the prosecution side and damn near hijacked the whole side's case. What I said about... more
              • So you must recognize my sympathy is with Ike ...Joyce A. Aros, Sun Jun 05 16:38
                ...in this situation. Obviously he did not understand what the procedure entailed, he was deeply emotionally involved, time was the enemy as well...and his ignorance of all of this caused him to repeat... more
                • Re: So you must recognize my sympathy is with Ike ...Wayne Sanderson, Sun Jun 05 16:46
                  As I said before, this was a badly mishandled preliminary hearing on the government's part. They showed their entire hand and allowed things to be examined and refuted that should have never been heard... more
          • Re: Re: Okay, Wayne....Wayne Sanderson, Sat Jun 04 18:52
            To follow up: Arizona Territory in 1881 was an interesting place, criminal law-wise. One interesting feature is that even a private citizen could bring a criminal charge as a presentment to the court and... more
    • Joyce -paul j, Sat Jun 04 11:16
      I always appreciate your getting in and arguing your point of view. It keeps things lively and encourages all of us. What fun would it be if we all agreed? all the best! paul
      • Paul, that is very gracious of you...Joyce A. Aros, Sat Jun 04 11:19
        ...I am by nature a 'pot stirrer.' Too bad I couldn't be right more often...but, Oh, well!!!
        • Joyce, where were you whenDan Brown, Sun Jun 19 17:47
          the Cowboys really needed you? Ike would have loved your support.
          • Dan/Someone has to see the light...Joyce A. Aros, Mon Jun 20 9:53
            ...in my overstated opinion. It is hard to get past the carefully planted bias, but well worth the effort. Regardless of the extended discussions on the subject, the fact remains the statute was... more