Why do we elect the Coroner?

I was asked that question recently.

The Code of Alabama establishes a standardized system of County Governance, including the office of Coroner in Title 11: Counties and Municipal Corporations; Coroner’s description at Section 11-5-1.   The Coroner “holds inquests” and “shall have the authority to certify any death…” which are duties that you would expect.  But another duty of the Coroner is to provide a check and balance to the Sheriff (the Coroner is like a replacement Sheriff):

Section 11-5-5 – When to discharge duties of sheriff generally.
The coroner must discharge the duties of the sheriff:
(1) When the office of sheriff is vacant and until his successor is qualified;
(2) When the sheriff is incompetent to act;
(3) When the sheriff is imprisoned;
(4) In cases to which the sheriff is a party; and
(5) In such cases as he is directed by the judge of probate.

Section 11-5-6 – When to act as keeper of jail.
The coroner shall be keeper of the jail when the sheriff is imprisoned.

I’m voting for Craig Whisenant for Madison County Coroner.  As I said in my post “136 Years is Long Enough”, Whisenant will bring fresh ideas to the Coroner’s office: 

Alabama law states that a county coroner is not a medical or forensic professional – but our county deserves a self-sufficient Coroner’s office that is operated outside of any funeral home or other private business.

Vote for Craig Whisenant for Madison County Coroner!

13 thoughts on “Why do we elect the Coroner?

  1. Andrew Jackson could tell you why we elect the Coroner. Something to do with mistrust of government, I believe.

  2. I like Craig Whisenant as well, but believe you me, I’d rather this position be appointed on qualifications than elected on popularity. As for the coroner not having to have a medical or forensic license, well… we need to change that! After all, the coroner determines cause of death, shouldn’t there be some base minimum of qualifications to run for the position, i.e. Medical license or the equivalent?

    • Certification of death is probably not the same as determining cause of death.

      But really, there already is a requirement. It’s called the voters. We’re allowed to hold candidates to appropriate standards, even if such minimal standards are not imposed by law.

      • From this site: http://blog.al.com/ht/2007/06/madison_county_elected_officia.html:

        “Coroners are elected law enforcement officers who determine cause of death and sign death certificates.”

        Neither of the guys running this time are, as far as I know, doctors. I would hope the coroner would call in a forensic pathologist if he was in over his head with a particular case, but it sounds to me like the legal requirements for this job need to be upgraded.

      • True dat about the voters. However, most county coroners are part time, paid very little, have small budgets and have problems finding money to buy body bags let alone cover the costs of being board certified forensic pathologists. For that, you have the state Department of Forensic Science.

        Death investigation is another problem which goes back to funding, turf wars and compared to issues like who’s name is on a stadium, teacher jobs, maintaining low taxes, etc has slid off burner and behind the stove.

        Jefferson County does have a professional M.E. which was an interesting political war 15+ years ago.

  3. StatMan – here are the education qualifications plus the required training:

    (5) Has obtained a high school diploma or its recognized equivalent.

    http://law.onecle.com/alabama/counties-and-municipal-corporations/11-5-33.html

    Effective March 1, 2007, any coroner, deputy coroner, or any person authorized to officially represent the county coroner shall complete 12 hours of training, approved by the commission, during each calendar year he or she serves as coroner.

    http://law.onecle.com/alabama/counties-and-municipal-corporations/11-5-31.html

    The Coroner’s job is to sign death certificates (and arrest the Sheriff). Cause of death is for professionals.

  4. The Tallapoosa County coroner’s pay is total garbage. I wouldn’t take the job if someone offered it to me for life. The state benefits don’t even make it worth doing. Also, I am assuming that bringing “new ideas to the coroner’s office” was a joke. Either your dead or not and either the coroner is establishing that fact effectively or not. End of story.

    • Talmadge East – nope, not joking about bringing new ideas to the Madison County Coroner’s office. Our Coroner runs the County Coroner’s office from his funeral home, just like recent MadCo Coroners. Whisenant is campaigning to make the Coroner’s office a real part of county government with a county office instead of just being an advertisement for business. The current Coroner isn’t breaking any laws, it’s just an old practice that needs changing.

      • there are some advantages an undertaker would have offer as coroner, storage space and disposal of unclaimed bodies, and a certain discretion and skill in handling bodies and next of kin, or so I was told during the primary. While the county does pay 4150 for an indigent burial, you don’t get rich that way. Lastly, there is idea of the citizen-office holder, an amateur doing his civic duty instead of a technocrat (or mandarin) seeking to make his mark.

  5. Another piece of trivia – only the District Attorney can authorize the Dept of Forensic Science to do an autopsy. The Coroner can not.

  6. Mike are you sure about that? Couldn’t the ABI execute a warrant on the sheriff? I know from growing up in Hardin County, Tn in the 80′s that the TBI arrested a lot of sheriffs in the west Tn area. Oh and if their classified as law enforcement officers then shouldnt they pass some sort of physical exam? I don’t mean to attack him personally because I don’t even know him. But the coroner in Cullman County would be hard pressed to out run a turtle. The poor man is that obese.