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Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward
elected coroners are not well trained in the field of pathology, and the Act should set up in each state an Office headed by a trained pathologist, this Office to have jurisdiction over post-mortem examinations for criminal purposes. The Office would supersede the authority of Coroner’s Offices in this field.12
Following the release of the Model Act, a number of states implemented the proposed guidelines. Between 1960 and 1979, 12 states converted from coroners to medical examiners.13 However, in the subsequent decades, updates to death investigation organizations slowed considerably. Between 1980 and 1999, only three states converted from coroner to medical examiner systems.14 Since then, 11 states with coroners have remained unchanged, and only a handful of individual counties have independently implemented recommendations from the Model Act.15 Several of the remaining coroner states have provisions in their state constitutions requiring that coroners be elected.16 Although these provisions may be amended or removed, to do so will require political momentum. However, these provisions do not prohibit the addition of appointed medical examiners. For example, Kentucky has maintained county coroners, as dictated by its constitution, while also implementing medical examiners to serve at the state and district levels.17
MEDICAL EXAMINERS AND CORONERS (ME/C)
About 2,342 medical examiner and coroner offices provided death investigation services across the United States in 2004.18 Individual state statutes determine whether a medical examiner or coroner delivers death investigation services, which include death scene investigations, medical investigations, reviews of medical records, medicolegal autopsies, determination of the cause and manner of death, and completion of the certificate of death.
Hanzlick, 2007, op. cit. The Bureau of Justice Statistics omits Louisiana and classifies Texas as a medical examiner state, and accordingly reports the total as 1,998. According to Hanzlick, many of Texas’s 254 counties maintain justice of the peace/coroner’s offices.