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What Happens During a Coroner's Investigation?

Once it has been determined that death has occurred, police personnel seal off the scene and the Coroner's Office is called. The processing of the scene provides the factual information needed to determine what occurred. In many cases, evidence obtained at the scene may be critical to the outcome of the investigation. The time involved in processing the scene varies widely, from hours to even days.

If the victim is deceased at the scene, he or she remains at the scene until such time when removal will not jeopardize the critical scene processing. This can be difficult for family members who want their loved one tended to as quickly as possible. Every effort is made to remove the victim from the scene as soon as possible. Each death scene and circumstances related to the death are unique and may require special considerations.

Follow-up Investigation

To facilitate timely dissemination of information throughout the investigation, the Coroner's Office suggests that families select a single-family representative, whenever possible, to handle communication between the Coroner's Office and the family.

As part of any death investigation, detectives must gather information. This includes asking questions which may be painful and upsetting to family members and friends. It may also include collecting a variety of evidentiary items. As painful and upsetting as these questions and procedures may be, please keep in mind they are necessary and required in a death investigation. If there is something the Coroner's Office can do for you to minimize the pain of this process, such as calling a friend or family member, please let us know.

Outcome of Investigation

The coroner may deem it necessary to hold or state law may require a coroner's inquest into the death of your loved one. A coroner's inquest is neither a civil nor a criminal trial proceeding. It is simply an inquiry into the manner and cause of an individual's death.

The coroner or deputy coroner conducts an inquest with six active jurors present. These jurors are citizens of Stephenson County, the county in which the death occurred.

The purpose of the inquest is to present pertinent information concerning the victim's death in order for the jury to arrive at a cause and manner of death. The cause of death is often readily apparent and obvious, based on the facts, circumstances, medical evidence and in some cases toxicology and postmortem examination results. The real essence of the juror's responsibility is to establish the manner of death (suicide, homicide, accident, natural or undetermined).

The inquest is open to the public and may not be closed pursuant to any requests to do so.

The coroner's verdict has no civil or criminal trial significance. The verdict and inquest proceedings are fact finding in nature and statistical in purpose.

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