The Coroner Division is a 24 hours a day, 7 days a week operation.
Deaths that fall under the jurisdiction of the Coroner Division are investigated by a team of deputy coroners. These deaths require deputy coroners respond to the scene of the death regardless of the time or location. They will interview witnesses and emergency responders, photograph the scene, follow up on leads, collect property/evidence, make identifications, notify next of kin, secure valuables and interface with law enforcement agencies. They prepare reports that may be forwarded to the Medical Examiners for use in the determination of the cause and manner of death. The deputy coroners may be called in to court to provide testimony on coroner cases. The skilled team of coroners are certified with Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) and participate in continued education such as Advanced Medicolegal Death Investigator Training.
The responsibilities of the Coroner Division are complex. Per Montana law, it is the responsibility of the division to inquire into and determine the circumstances, manner and cause of deaths which fall within its jurisdiction. These deaths include any suspected homicide, suicide, or accidental deaths. These also include any natural death were there either is no physician to sign a death certificate, or the physician is unwilling or legally prohibited from doing so. Additionally, other certain causes of death are mandated to be investigated by the division.
The manner and cause of death inquiries may require review of medical records, interviews with family members or witnesses, and post mortem examinations. The Coroner Division is authorized to order autopsies, collect evidence, toxicology and tissues for testing and microscopic study. The Montana Department of Justice Forensic Science Division (MT State Crime Lab) located in Missoula and Billings, Montana, conduct the autopsies and process toxicology. Upon completion of these tests, the MT State Crime Lab notifies the Coroner Division of the results and determination.
The cause of death is used to complete the decedent’s death certificate. Evidence collected during autopsies and at the scene of the death can be used for criminal prosecution as well as determining the cause of death. The deputy coroners are vigilant of any deaths that may pose a threat to public health from communicable disease or through product liability.
The division’s responsibilities also include the identification of decedents. Identification may be as simple as matching the decedent to a driver’s license photo or other identification documents. The identification process may also utilize fingerprints, dental records, body x-rays or additional specimen testing. Identifying the decedent’s next of kin, notifying them of the death and securing the decedent’s personal property are additional responsibilities of the division. In deaths where the decedent died at scene, division personnel are responsible for removal and transportation of the decedent. The deputy coroners will also obtain information from family, friends and public safety personnel regarding the terminal episode. The deputy coroners serve as the eyes, ears and hands of the forensic pathologists in the field.
The receiving and handling of decedent personal property is one of the highest priorities of the Coroner Division. The Evidence Technician collects, inventories, safeguards and releases decedent personal property to the legal next of kin. Oftentimes, receiving the personal property of a decedent brings closure to the family and allows them to care for the decedent's valuables. The Evidence Technician provides a high level of customer service to ensure families have as little stress as possible when visiting our office.
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