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Just Science Podcast: Medicolegal Death Investigation: Just Coroners Versus Medical Examiner Systems

NCJ Number
Date Published
October 2018
2 pages

This second episode of the medicolegal death investigation special release season of the National Institute of Justice's (NIJ's) Just Science podcasts is an interview with John Fudenberg, the Coroner of Clark County (Nevada), regarding differences between coroner and medical-examiner systems.


The particular structure of Fundenberg's Clark County Coroner's Office is first discussed. He is appointed by a county elected official, and he has a background in law enforcement, not medicine. He acts as the manager of an office that determines the cause and manner of a death that occurs in the county. He chooses not to be directly involved in determinations of the cause of a death. This determination is done by a medical doctor assigned to the case. Regarding the manner of death, i.e., what events occurred to produce the cause of death, Fundenburg believes his background as a police officer gives him sufficient expertise to have more direct involvement in determining the manner of death. Medical examiner offices, in contrast to coroner offices, require that the ultimate decision on cause and manner of death be made by a medical doctor. Fundenburg notes the advantages and disadvantages of such a requirement. He also discusses the disadvantages of having a coroner or medical examiner be an elected official with a limited term of office. He emphasizes that there is a problem in requiring that the agency responsible for determining the cause and manner of a death be managed by a certified forensic pathologist. Although this may be desirable, it is not practical, since the number of certified forensic pathologists in America is a small percentage of medically trained professionals. He argues that the decision about which system and standards for death investigations is adopted by a jurisdiction is ultimately determined by the resources that are available for this task.

Date Published: October 1, 2018