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What's the difference?

Coroner, Medical Examiner or Forensic Pathologist?


  • A Coroner is an elected official.
  • Coroner works in “Coroner states”.
  • Each county in Colorado has their own elected Coroner and essentially their own death investigation system.
  • A Coroner can essentially be anyone since to run for office one only has to be
    • at least 18 years of age,
    • not a felon and
    • registered to vote in the county.
  • Citizens of Mesa County should demand their Coroner at least bring some type of medical knowledge and experience to the position.
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Medical Examiner

  • A Medical Examiner is by definition a physician.
  • Medical Examiner works in "Medical Examiner" states.
    • Medical examiner is the one that oversees the death investigation system.
    • Forensic pathologists in these states are often referred to as “Medical Examiners”.

Forensic Pathologist

  • Physician who after graduating medical school becomes a Forensic Pathologist.
    • Enters and completes specialized training in general pathology.
    • Completes a forensic pathology fellowship.
    • Performs the autopsies.
  • In Colorado, if the Coroner is not a forensic pathologist, the Coroner must contract with a forensic pathologist to perform their autopsy examinations.

What happens after the Mesa County Coroner’s Office takes custody of a body?

  • The Mesa County Coroner’s Office is responsible for aiding the family in the final disposition of the body.
  • The Coroner’s Office does not recommend funeral homes.
  • There are several local funeral home establishments in Mesa County the family can choose from.
  • The body is typically released to the funeral home of the family’s choosing.
    • After the autopsy is completed.
    • If an autopsy is not performed, after completion of interviews and medical record review.
  • It is important the Mesa County Coroner’s Office ensure each body is treated with respect and dignity and their final resting place is known.

What are Scene Investigators?

  • Medicolegal death investigators, or sometimes referred to as scene investigators, are those individuals who have been trained to respond to the scene and conduct a thorough investigation of the circumstances surrounding a death.
  • Ideally these investigators would bring some type of medical experience and/or law enforcement experience to their jobs.
  • The Mesa County Coroner’s Office should ensure their investigators are highly trained and experienced individuals.
  • The Office should also require their investigators be certified through the national organization American Board of Medicolegal Death Investigators either upon hire or shortly after they are hired.
  • Not every death reported to the Mesa County Coroner’s Office requires the investigator to respond to the scene to do an investigation.
  • Some deaths, particularly those in hospitals, require only an investigation done strictly by phone interviews and medical record review.
  • The medicolegal death investigator plays a very important role in the death investigation.
  • The information they gather can be invaluable to the forensic pathologist and/or Coroner and therefore it is very important the investigators are properly trained and comfortable with their investigative skills.


Colorado Public Health Law page on Public Health Professional Gateway website from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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